Oil prices are now flirting with $100 a barrel, and this isn’t really a good thing for most large scale consumers of energy, like poultry farms. But, there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. Last month’s issue of LVG Online presented a couple of alternative means for heating broiler houses as well as some of the pluses and minuses of alternative heating systems. Changes in energy markets will affect poultry growers in more ways than just how they heat their houses.
Natural gas is used in the Haber-Bosch process to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia which is used in chemical fertilizers. This means that natural gas prices and nitrogen fertilizer prices are intimately tied together, and this also means that as natural gas prices rise the value of the nitrogen in poultry litter should go up as well.
Many energy scenarios for the future have ethanol, biodiesel and other forms of biomass playing major roles. If biomass, ethanol and biodiesel do become major fuels in the future, then the relative value of fertilizer and the land to grow the feed stocks for these fuels will rise as well. Poultry growers should find that the value of their land and poultry litter will increase.
This past crop year illustrated that there are no sure things; corn prices are not as high as most had feared/hoped for. But, we should be entering a golden age for agriculture. We all learned in school that plants use photosynthesis to harness the sun’s energy. Plants are still the most economical solar collectors on earth, and demand for crops will only increase as the world turns to agriculture to not only produce its food but to also meet its energy needs.
When I started in the poultry industry in the mid 1980’s, the model broiler farm would have had its houses built on enough acreage to use the poultry litter to fertilize corn as part of a nitrogen-based nutrient-management plan. The corn harvest would be sold to the feed mill and would be fed back to the chickens, and the cycle would continue. Now, that farm would have switched to a phosphorous-based nutrient-management plan and it would need supplemental nitrogen fertilizer to grow the corn and some of the litter would be trucked off the farm because of high phosphorous levels in the soil.
Perhaps in the future, the model farm will burn the litter as fuel to heat the poultry houses or use the litter to fertilize a biomass crop that is burned for fuel. No one knows for sure what the energy sources of the future will be, but as large scale users of energy, poultry growers need to stay in tune with developments. The first thing to do is to make sure that your houses are tight and well insulated. Next, carefully evaluate options for alternative fuels, but make sure that you are not wasting energy first.