RIDGELY — The sound of organic compost being made from chicken litter is music to many ears on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and across the Delmarva Peninsula.
Due to high phosphorus levels, the use of chicken litter (manure) on fields has long been a problem for local farmers, environmentalists and politicians. On Thursday, Feb. 2, in a large red barn on the Twin Maple Farm in Ridgely, one dedicated group of individuals set out to change that.
The newly established MidAtlantic Organic Resource Company, is using chicken litter to create a 100 percent organic, non-leachable compost.
Dave Tribbett Jr., Joe Beacher, Robert Winn, Joey Baxter, and Tim Humphries make up the dynamic team of farmers, business men and innovators who are setting out to address not only the issue of chicken litter but also any compostable waste in the area.
“As a farmer, I wanted to make a better fertilizer that was environmentally friendly and economically better for our fields,” Tribbett said. “Why would I go out there and spread 3 tons of chicken manure if I’m losing 40 percent of it?”
Tribbett said he typically spreads three tons of chicken litter per acre of farmland; he will now be able to use just one and half tons of this compost instead. He will be saving time and money and the phosphorus problems and leaching problems of the past will no longer be an issue.
“Phosphorus levels were either too high or I was losing so much product due to leaching,” Tribbett said. “This compost is a non-leachable product, it’s going to stay — no runoff.” Leaching refers to the loss of nutrients or fertilizer due to rain and runoff.
In the beginning stages, all chicken litter will come directly from Tribbett’s Twin Maple Farm in Ridgely, which produces 1,200 tons of poultry litter a year.
Several things will be added to the chicken litter to create the final product. Sawdust from the horse paddocks at the race track in Harrington, Del., will serve as the carbon source. Hatchery waste from Amik Farms in Hurlock, Seawatch Chicken Hatchery, in Milford, Del., and Allen Harim’s hatchery in Seaford,Del. These items typically would go to a landfill. In addition to the paddock and hatchery waste, the team will be able to use straw or corn fodder as well.
“I have a good relationship with other poultry integrators,” Tribbett said. “Talking with them, they tell you they have a problem with hatchery waste. It’s a big problem for them right now.”
“We will be saving about 300 tons of waste from the hatcheries alone from going in to landfills a week,” Tribbett said.
The waste from the hatcheries will include egg shells, egg yolks, and any dead chickens.
“Eventually we want to take everything from the poultry companies so that nothing goes to the landfills,” Tribbett said.
Tribbett says the hatcheries will be saving money since they will be paying MidAtlantic Organic Resource Company less money than they are currently paying to dump the waste at landfills.
“We will be able to generate a profit but the folks we are going to do business with they are actually going to save money,” Beacher said. “These companies such as the hatcheries can go to the USDA and say listen we are a green business now, and this is why.”
In addition to saving money, MidAtlantic Organic Resource Company will also be able to customize the final product to meet specific needs of the farmer.
“Farmers are going to get a good nutrient source out of what we are making,” Tribbett said. “Ultimately we have to have a resale value of this product and that’s a quality farm-friendly 100 percent organic compost.”
“We are able to blend in other fertilizer with it so if the farmer has a specific goal — what he needs for his crops — we can blend other things into (the compost) as well,” Tribbett said.
MidAtlantic Organic Resource Company will then send these type blends to Penn State University, where the samples will be analyzed so the farmer will know exactly what is in the final product. The firm will be able to show the individual farmers the science behind what they are buying. This process will help the group to produce and maintain a consistent batch.
“When it’s all said and done it’s stamped organic,” Beacher said. “I think that the really neat part about all this. It gives us a different marketability with this product. Once the organic farmers around started hearing about what we are doing they got interested too.”
In the near future, the partners hope to start picking up Ridgely Elementary School’s cafeteria waste daily, for no charge to the school. They plan to pick up anything compostable from the cafeteria trash, such as school food waste, napkins, and plates. This part of the project is still in the experimental stage.
“This endeavor will have a big impact on our food waste, which will limit the amount of trash going to landfills,” Ridgely Elementary School Principal Roger Banko. “Cafeteria waste is anywhere from 8 to 10 large garbage bags a day, and to be able to use that in another capacity is fantastic.”
“Children tend to be picky eaters and some days they leave more food than they like, so unfortunately there tends to be a lot of waste,” Banko said.
Reducing the amount of waste is the driving force in getting the schools involved. Both Beacher and Tribbett stress the effect this could have on landfills and children’s interest in recycling.
“Eventually we want to bring the kids in to see what recycling can do — effects it will have on the Chesapeake Bay,” Tribbett said. “Recycling is going big, it’s getting bigger and bigger all the time.”
“We want the kids to see what the effects of recycling can do — what can be made out of trash,” Tribbett said.
“This will be a win-win for Caroline County,” Banko said.
The long process to get where they are today began in December 2013 when Maryland Environmental Service (MES) contacted Tribbett and asked if they could run a test pilot on his farm. MES set up a small drum in the manure shed and began conducting tests.
About a year later, Beacher said they were contacted by Robert Winn from Organic Resource Company in Texas. Robert Winn and Joey Baxter make up Organic Resource Company.
“They are doing something similar in Texas. They are using biosolids from sewage plants to create an organic compost,” Beacher said.
Together with their new partners from Texas, Tribbett and Beacher began conducting more tests, and last year they applied for a grant through the State of Maryland, but were unsuccessful.
“We started thinking about ways we could start our own business up,” Beacher said.
“We partnered with Winn and Baxter from Organic Resource Company in Texas, — they manufacture the equipment, and we partnered with Tim Humphries and Queenstown Bank.”
Both Tribbett and Beacher say it worked out better this way.
“I think it’s a unique operation, everybody has been looking for it over the years — a way to get to do something resourceful with the chicken manure,” Tommy Rhodes, president and CEO of Queenstown Bank, said.
“Farmers have been blamed for a lot of things in the Bay, and they (farmers) are always working to better themselves,” Rhodes said. “I think it is just great. They have seen the operation before which proves it has worked, so we are going to prove it again.”
Once they had a plan, the partners needed to apply for the necessary permits.
“Organic Resource Company helped with the permits and the proposal for the state,” Beacher said. “They helped us with setting this all up and they manufacture the equipment.”
“Because we are utilizing the poultry litter on this farm, we were able to get the permits,” Tribbett said. “We are taking a problem here on the Shore and putting it into something to make alternate energies out of it.”
“The state was behind us 100 percent so our permits came through rather quick,” Beacher said.
Tribbett demonstrated how the manure gets dumped onto the conveyor belt into one of the two large barrels. The barrels are 10 feet wide and 50 feet long, and each one holds between 40 to 50 tons. They have a smaller barrel set up to be used for the cafeteria waste, it is 8 feet wide and 32 feet long.
Once the waste reaches the barrels, Tribbett powered them up and explained they will rotate slowly for one hour and sit to “cook” for four hours. That process repeats over and over during the next 72 hours. The tunnels are positioned at a slight angle so the waste will slowly make its way down to the far end of the barrel, where another conveyor belt will aid in loading the final product onto trucks.
As the barrel rotates, there is a small valve on the far end that opens up once it reaches the top to release any gases that may have built up.
During the compost process, methane gas is produced and they plan to eventually harvest that byproduct to heat the chicken houses and to generate power.
“That’s a big goal a little farther down the road,” Beacher said. “It will be awhile before we could afford to do that because it’s a very expensive venture.”
“Because the compost is made indoors in these large barrels, it will never be exposed to storm water or runoff,” Tribbett said. “Once the waste comes into us it will never touch dirt, dust, nothing, it will go straight into our barrels and after 72 hours it becomes 100 percent organic.”
“Another thing is because this is all contained unlike regular outside composting there is no smell,” Beacher said. “There is also no loss either. We put one yard of waste in we get one yard of compost out.”