Tahlequah Daily Press

January 18, 2013

Litter hauler incentive a boon for the basin

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The Oklahoma Legislature recently lifted a moratorium on a tax credit allowing poultry litter haulers doing business out of the Illinois River watershed to earn extra money.

According to Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite, the action is not just good for the watershed; it’s good for farmers and litter haulers.

“What the Legislature did, in essence, was reinstitute a tax rebate which has fueled the incentive for companies looking at hauling poultry waste out of the Illinois River watershed, which is not only effective in reducing the amount of phosphorus load in the river, but is good business for haulers,” said Fite.

According to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the $10 per-ton credit reinstated July 1 is available for buyers who purchase and transport poultry litter outside of Oklahoma Nutrient Limited Watersheds. Litter must originate from Oklahoma nutrient-limited watersheds – such as the Illinois River and Lake Eucha areas – and be applied outside those watersheds. If the tax credit exceeds an individual’s income tax due, the unused credit may be carried for up to five years. The program is funded at $375,000 annually.

Bev Saunders, an Adair County farmer and president of Poultry Partners Inc., said the cost of litter has risen over the past few years, and demand for it outside the watershed has risen.

“A lot of things have happened in the past of six or seven years - gas, oil, and fuel prices went up, and in turn, drove up the price of commercial fertilizer,” said Saunders. “When [the cost of fertilizer] went up, the price of poultry litter went up, and there are more people wanting litter, because it’s a cheaper alternative to commercial fertilizers. When that became a bigger issue, there were more and more people hauling out.”

Saunders said that while poultry farmers don’t benefit directly from the rebate, it creates increased revenue all the same.

“All of the rebate goes to the hauler,” said Saunders. “From the farmer’s perspective, the price of litter is rising, which creates a better market for our production.”

The cost of litter may be going up, but Saunders indicated the number of active poultry houses has decreased over the years.

“The new complexes that are coming on board are large operations,” said Saunders. “There aren’t many smaller houses. Every year for several years, the number of houses has actually decreased. As a result, there is less litter available, and more demand for it.”

Saunders’ organization works with both farmers and the public on education outreach.

“Recently, a lot of our efforts have focused on interesting farmers in bio-energy alternatives,” said Saunders. “We’re working on a [chicken house] lighting program that was tested through the University of Arkansas, and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to replace incandescent bulbs as they are phased out. We’ve had a lot of programs on the lighting, and of course, we’re always interested in the water issues and energy conservation. We always strive to become both better stewards of the land, as well as positively impacting our bottom lines.”

The most recent data shows about 48.93 million birds generated 420,479 tons of poultry waste within the basin.

Shanon Phillips, water quality division director for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, said the most recent data kept by state regulators in Arkansas and Oklahoma suggest 80 to 90 percent of the litter produ0ced in the watershed is now land-applied elsewhere.

Previous programs, Phillips said, have ensured most poultry producers use storage sheds for litter kept on site and have implemented other best-management practices.

“For that reason, our current efforts are focused on reducing the impacts of nutrients that are already in the soils of the watershed,” Phillips said, citing riparian buffer projects within the Illinois River and Eucha-Spavinaw watersheds.

BMPs Inc. was the first company to actively haul litter from the watershed in 2006. According to the company’s website, www.litterlink.com, the value of litter ranges from $73.21 per ton to $84.14 per ton. BMPs Litter Link serves poultry growers, litter buyers and haulers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.

“Right now, the role of litter link is to provide information about litter transport and supply to poultry growers and crop producers,” said Sherry Herron of BMPs Inc. “We also work to support the efforts of local haulers to develop a sustainable poultry litter transport industry.”