A new report from the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group—a partnership of poultry and grain producers, conservation partners, academic experts and other stakeholders—outlines the group’s recommendations for reducing nutrient pollution related to poultry manure, or “litter,” on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Known as the Delmarva Peninsula, the land to the east of the Bay includes parts of western Delaware and eastern Maryland and Virginia. It is also responsible for a disproportionate amount of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the estuary, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released earlier this year. But the Delmarva Land and Litter Work Group is committed to improving the relationship between agriculture and Bay health, encouraging responsible nutrient management and promoting alternative uses for manure and poultry litter.
To support the group’s vision of a healthy and productive Chesapeake Bay, the report recommends developing action plans for the research, implementation, funding and coordination of regulations for nutrient management programs and technologies. Along with the report, members of the work group announced the launch of the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, an initiative to unite stakeholder groups and take the lead on the responsible use of manure and poultry litter.
Livestock manure and poultry litter are often applied to farmland as a form of fertilizer, providing crops with the nutrients they need to grow. When more litter is applied to the land than is needed by crops, nutrients can build up in the environment. Eventually, these nutrients flow into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, where they can fuel the growth of harmful algae blooms that block sunlight and create low-oxygen “dead zones” that suffocate marine life.
Under the clean water goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which encompasses the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), Bay Program partners are working with farmers across the watershed to reduce the amount of nutrients entering local waterways.
The report, New Approaches to Poultry Litter Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Win-Win Pathways for Agriculture and the Bay, is available online.
Growing scientific evidence shows that pathogens, antimicrobials and hormones are increasingly appearing in livestock and poultry manure across the United States, according to a literature review prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Image courtesy USDAgov/Flickr
These “contaminants of emerging concern”—so named because their risks to human health and the environment may be unknown—could pose threats to plants, animals and people if rain, spills or storage failures push contaminated manure into rivers and streams.
The flow of manure into our waterways has long been linked to nutrient pollution. According to 2010 estimates, manure accounts for 19 percent of the nitrogen and 26 percent of the phosphorous entering the Chesapeake Bay, where it fuels the growth of algae blooms and creates dead zones that suffocate marine life. But research now shows that more of the nation’s manure could contain a new class of pollutants that could have serious implications for water quality.
Manure can contain pathogens, for instance, that could infect humans if allowed to contaminate our drinking water or food crops. It can contain antibiotics and vaccines that could facilitate the development of antimicrobial resistance. And it can contain natural and artificial hormones that, even in low concentrations, could affect the reproductive health and fitness of fish, frogs and other marine life.
Indeed, good manure management has become a key conservation practice in the watershed, where four states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia—rank among the ten highest manure-generating states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As livestock and poultry production shift to larger, more concentrated operations, facilities produce more manure than can be used on the surrounding farmland. If this manure is properly applied, stored and transported, it can be kept out of rivers, streams and the Bay.
Learn more about contaminants in livestock and poultry manure.