Here’s Why Farmers Put Down Chicken Litter in the Fall

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This fall, on Accomack and Northampton farm fields, farmers will spread chicken litter on the soil to supply nutrients, micronutrients, and organic matter – the very things crops need to grow. It makes sense to many of us why pungent, plant-powering litter is applied to fields in the spring, when crops like corn take root. But what reason would a farmer have to apply litter in the fall?

Good reason, in fact. Farmers can use chicken litter as an organic, slow-release plant food to nourish small grains like barley, wheat and rye, which can be made into everything from cow silage to craft beer. These crops, planted in the fall, are hardier in cold weather than summer annuals like corn and soybeans. Small grains nourished by chicken litter this autumn will be harvested next year. When chicken litter hits a farm field between September and November, its nutrients are being locked into the soil for a purpose, not just to wait around for spring planting.

You might also see chicken litter from Accomack’s family-owned chicken farms being trucked to farm fields outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Doing so puts litter in the hands of farmers elsewhere whose fields can benefit from its nutrients, and it moves litter out of Accomack’s watersheds. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and chicken processing companies both financially support the litter transport program, which this year expanded to include Accomack County’s family farmers growing chickens.

Of course, anything Virginia farmers do with chicken litter follows sound nutrient management practices. The litter transport program adds to the toolbox Virginia farmers reach into to improve water quality, both in the Chesapeake Bay and in other watersheds. It’s been satisfying to see their hard work paying off, with the Lower Bay near us earning a B grade – the best grade assigned to any portion of the Bay – in the 2018 Chesapeake Bay & Watershed Report Card. Virginia certainly has more work to do to improve our region’s water quality, but we’re confident farmers will continue to be part of the solution.

Holly Porter
Executive Director
Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.