February 2, 2016
As an Allegany County farmer, I know it’s not easy to find organic and sustainably raised poultry, let alone afford it. My family eats chicken from Perdue, Tyson, and other brands that grow broilers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Quite frankly, it ticks me off that these companies take our money and rake in billions every year, but don’t take responsibility for the manure generated by their birds. I feel for farmers under contract with these companies left worrying about how to dispose of all that manure. Over here, on the other side of the state, a lot of farmers like me want to see Maryland finally require poultry companies to clean up their act and manage their own waste, just like the rest of us.
That’s why I’m supporting new legislation in Annapolis called the Poultry Litter Management Act—and I urge you to do so too. Contact your legislators today to ask them to support the Poultry Litter Management Act.
My farming roots are deep: Both of my parents were raised on subsistence farms—mom in nearby West Virginia, and dad near Rocky Gap State Park, on land owned by his grandparents.
They raised horses and grew a little bit of everything, even selling vegetables at the Cumberland Farmers Market in the 1950s. When agriculture chemicals became widespread, dad almost never used them, even when he started growing food for all ten of us kids.
Today, we have 35 brood cows and 25 additional head of cattle, and we grow vegetables and raspberries, servicing area restaurants and selling directly to our base of 100 loyal customers.
As farmers say, we don’t own the farm; the farm owns us. We never stop working to create a quality product for consumers who want beef that is sustainably grown—with environmental protection in mind.
The farm has used rotational grazing practices with diversion terracing for decades to keep soil erosion at bay. We pay strong attention to make sure our nutrient sediment ponds don’t have excess growth so they are a good habitat for waterfowl. The cattle are grass-fed, and customers appreciate eating beef that wasn’t fed on the typical energy-intensive feedlot diet consisting of corn and soy.
When it comes to manure management, we never put more cattle on the farm than the land could handle. Up until 2009, we spread manure on a daily basis during the winter. Our cattle preferred to stay mostly inside during our cold winters here in the Appalachian Mountains, and we did not have the infrastructure to store winter manure.
That year, when we had to rebuild our barn, we used cost share funding from the state and the local Soil Conservation District and added a manure storage facility. This year, we are putting in our second manure storage facility. We work hard to follow all nutrient management regulations and have the water tested on nearby streams to ensure there are no out-of-balance nutrient levels. We stagger where we spread the manure from year to year, ensuring its uniformity, and that no field gets more manure than it can handle. Because of this, our impact on the Bay watershed is negligible, the health of our soil is optimum, and that’s the key to productive farms.
On the Eastern Shore, poultry generates more manure than the fields can accommodate. These companies rake in huge profits but simply don’t do a good enough job helping their farmers find solutions for the thousands of excess tons of manure that need to be stored, transported, and properly disposed of. As a farmer, I expect Tyson, Mountaire, Perdue and all the other big poultry companies who raised birds on the Eastern Shore to do their part to handle all that excess manure. It’s time they stop leaving the problem up to their growers, and to the taxpayers.
If we all take responsibility, we can keep our farms going for generations to come, plus the lands and waters that we all enjoy in our beautiful corner of the country.
For Fair Farms,
Leaning Pine Farm Grass-Fed Beef
Cedar Rock Farm Produce
Mount Savage, Maryland
PS: Be sure to “Like” Leaning Pine Farm/Cedar Rock Farm on Facebook here!