Application of wastes produced by poultry feeding operations within the Illinois River Basin within the watershed this side of the state line increased for the first time in at least five years.

A report published by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry shows 8,001 tons of poultry waste was applied as fertilizer on land within the nutrient limited watershed. That is up 37.4 percent from the 5,823 tons applied during the previous reporting period in that portion of the watershed west of the Arkansas state line. 

The report, which tracks the movement of poultry wastes from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, also shows an overall upward trend for land applications outside the watershed. That number, which hit a high of 63,871 tons in fiscal year 2011, dropped to 29,000 tons two years later and ticked upward to 34,115 tons in fiscal year 2014, the most recent year available due to reporting guidelines.

The report breaks out poultry waste exports into two categories: exports from the watershed applied in Oklahoma and exports applied outside the state. Land application of exported poultry wastes in Oklahoma have trended downward since fiscal year 2010, while applications outside the state dropped significantly between fiscal years 2011 and 2013 before gaining traction again during fiscal year 2014.

Jeremy Seiger, director of the agency’s Agricultural Environmental Management Services Division, said the fact that overall exports of poultry waste grew during the past year “is a good thing.” Another factor that stood out for him was the average rate of application.

“That is one of the interesting things this year and something I wanted to see,” Seiger said about the statewide average application rate of 1.9 tons an acre. “It does fluctuate within each county, but ... that is a good number to see — it’s within that ballpark range.”

The average application rate drops further for poultry waste applications on land associated with poultry feeding operations. According to the agency’s fiscal year 2014 report, the average application rate in that type of situation drops to 0.36 tons an acre — it ranges from 0.11 tons to 0.71 tons in counties that have some impact on the Illinois River watershed.

One statistic left out of this year’s tracking report was the estimated amount of waste produced by poultry feeding operations within the Illinois River Basin. Seiger said changes within the industry — larger barns, for example, and fluctuating flock and bird sizes — have rendered previously used models unreliable.

“It’s not an exact science, and I just didn’t feel comfortable including numbers that cannot be backed up by any justifiable practice,” Seiger said. “Basically, what I am concerned with is how much is leaving the farm, where it’s going when it leaves the farm, and what the application rate is down the road.”

Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite said he would like to see more details included in the agency’s annual report. One statistic in particular is specific information about the application sites for all poultry waste exported from the basin. 

“One thing I have encouraged them to do is tell us where the disposal points are,” Fite said. “I want to ensure that we are not ... creating water impairment issues wherever that final disposal point is.”

Seiger said this year’s report, which was sent Dec. 15 to the governor’s office, does not reflect statutory changes that became effective July 1 with the passage of House Bill 2208. Those changes will be incorporated as the next report is assembled.

“It would have created a nightmare within the industry if we would have tried to convert everything over this year,” Seiger said about implementing the new reporting requirements. “We decided to wait and start fresh with the next report.”

D.E. Smoot writes for the Muskogee Phoenix.

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