If you are a dedicated free-market capitalist, the obvious answer to the question, how much is litter worth, is whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
Since the Delmarva Peninsula is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, litter use in this area has received a lot of attention. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech University and West Virginia University collaborated on surveys of farmers in four Maryland counties in 2005 and published a summary of the results.
Two of the counties in these surveys were called primary poultry producing counties, because 47 percent of Maryland’s poultry is produced there. The other two counties are called secondary poultry producing counties because they produce only 17 percent of Maryland’s poultry. Farmers in the secondary poultry producing counties reported that they were willing to pay an average of $11.81 per ton for litter, but the farmers in the primary poultry producing counties were only willing to pay an average of $6.35 per ton for litter. Because of third-party sales and transportation costs, the average price received by poultry growers is not as high as the price that other farmers are willing to pay for litter. Growers in the primary poultry counties who were paid for their litter report receiving an average of $3.67 per ton for litter, and growers in secondary counties report being paid $4.75 per ton.
Twenty-three percent of growers responding to the survey report that after their last total house cleanout, they used all of the litter on their farm. Over half of the growers (61 percent) said that they transferred all of the litter off their farm. Surprisingly, 48 percent of the growers report that they received no cash or services for the litter transferred off their farm. Around a third of the growers (35 percent) say that they received some services in compensation for the litter transferred off the farm, and most of these (81 percent) said that clean-out service was the compensation for the litter. Only 13 percent of the growers transferring litter off the farm report receiving cash compensation.
In this study of Maryland farmers, the “average” poultry grower “gave away” litter that couldn’t be used on their own farms. Poultry litter has an agronomic value significantly above zero dollars, and the value that I have seen most often cited is $40 per ton. A well managed-typical broiler house will generate around 125 tons per year. This means that each house could produce litter with an agronomic value of $5,000 per year.