2008-06-04 / Farm & Ranch

Oil boom makes chicken manure a favored fertilizer

BERNVILLE, Pa. (AP) - The oil price boom is turning chicken manure into a form of liquid gold for an Upper Bern Township farmer.

Pat Shea still makes the bulk of his money selling eggs. But surging petroleum prices are indirectly boosting demand for the 4,200 tons of manure his 367,000 hens produce each year.

With costs of fossil fuel-based fertilizers headed skyward, Shea's liquid manure, at about $150 a truckload, is proving a bargain for farmers.

"If I had three more (chicken) houses I could sell all that," Shea said.

With the rise in fossil fuel prices, chemical nitrogen made from natu- ral gas has reached $675 a ton, a nearly 50 percent jump from the $453 a ton reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April 2007.

On average, about 90 percent of cornfields in Pennsylvania use nitrogen to improve crop yields, according to the USDA.

Now the high price of chemical and petroleum fertilizers has farmers thinking twice, said Joel Graydus, a nutrient management specialist with the Berks County Conservation District.

"It can get very expensive to grow corn," Graydus said, but farmers can use manure for a fraction of the cost.

Shea sells manure for about $10 a ton. Graydus said when he started in the area four years ago, "I was getting calls from farmers who couldn't get rid of manure. They are now willing to pay money for it."

Demand has grown enough that Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers has set up a manure trader Web site to link farmers with extra manure to people who want to buy it.

Steve Lehman, a Lancaster County waste hauler, is a registered manure broker. His Lehman Ag Services, based in Holtwood, hauls more than 70 million gallons a year of liquid manure to about 100 farmers in an eight-county area.

With the rising cost of chemical fertilizers, Lehman said, "Manure is a commodity, and not a liability ... There is not enough of it to go around."

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