Why Do Farmers Lay Litter In Fall
This fall, farmers on the Eastern Shore will spread chicken litter on the soil to supply nutrients, micronutrients and organic matter – the very things crops need to grow. It makes sense to many of us why pungent, plant-powering litter is applied to fields in the spring, when crops like corn take root. But what reason would a farmer have to apply litter in the fall?
Good reason, in fact. Farmers use chicken litter as an organic, slow-release plant food to nourish small grains like barley, wheat and rye, which can be made into everything from cow silage to craft beer. These crops, planted in the fall and harvested the following year, are hardier in cold weather than summer annuals like corn and soybeans.
In addition, their roots hold soil in place, reducing overwinter erosion and improving water quality in every watershed. When chicken litter hits a farm field in autumn, its nutrients are being locked into the soil for a purpose, not just to wait around for spring planting.
You might also see chicken litter from family-owned chicken farms being trucked to other farm fields this fall. Doing so puts litter in the hands of farmers whose fields can most benefit from its nutrients, and it moves litter out of sensitive watersheds. Delmarva’s chicken companies help fund the Maryland litter transport program, and today, about 10 percent of the region’s chicken litter is transported before it’s applied.
The litter transport program is just one tool Maryland farmers reach for to improve water quality, both in the Chesapeake Bay and in other watersheds. Their commitment to the environment has cut agriculture’s nitrogen and phosphorus loads to the bay by 25 percent, even as nutrient levels in stormwater runoff from urban areas have increased.
Maryland has more work to do to improve our region’s water quality, but we’re confident farmers will continue to be part of the solution.
(The writer is the executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.)