Rising costs are hitting every sector of farming, but it now looks like poultry producers could be able to turn what was once a waste product into a useful source of income.

Broiler producers, who were once grateful for a neighbouring farmer to haul litter out of shed for free, are now charging up to £15/t – and it looks like that figure could rise even further.

But while still offering nutrients at a fraction of the cost of compounds, poultry manure is being described as “rocket fuel” by nutrient consultants who say both producers and users must be fully conversant with the analysis of the material and how it should be correctly applied.

“It’s not just a case of plaster it on and hope for the best. Incorrectly applied manure can do more harm than good – not to mention the environmental implications,” said one nutrient specialist.

Several local authorities have now issued detailed guidance strategies covering the safe use of poultry manure on the land.

Caradon District Council in Cornwall is warning producers not to store poultry manure between May and October, preferably to spread within 24 hours of collection/delivery and not to spread close to places where people live or work. It also advises ploughing in material within 24 hours and closely inspecting manured areas twice a week.

So while the value of poultry litter is clearly being recognised by producers, it’s clear that those buying and using the material must ensure they are not only aware of how to use it, but also that they may well have to comply with strict environmental regulations in their own locality.

Broiler producer Stephen Hays of Bluemoon Farms at Ross-on-Wye says that while he was once grateful for someone to take away his poultry manure, he’s now selling it at £15/t.

Rising value of poultry litter

• Poultry manure now selling for up to £15/t

• Users must be aware of its potency

• Environmental implications if applied incorrectly

• Producers should have samples analysed

• Potential nutrient value of £357/ha

“In nutrient terms, more farmers have realised that it has a significant value. We are now charging for our manure, but we also need dependable people to take it and who abide by our system. We start emptying sheds at 6am and want loads taken away every 20 minutes. The efficiency with which we get the manure out of the sheds and off the farm is an important part of the process.

“Although our buyers know the price will increase, we’ve agreed a gradual rise in the charge. We need to work together on this,” says Mr Hays.

He’s urging those who use poultry manure to work with an agronomist to become familiar with the material and to achieve the correct spread-level and nutrient application.

Mark Tripney, a farm manager who has now set up the Cheshire-based consultancy Matrix Ag specialising in nutrient management, says users must be aware of the potency of poultry manure.

“Wider recognition of its nutrient value is good news for poultry producers but we’re talking about applying this material at the rate of 6-7t/ha compared with 42t/ha if we were working with farmyard manure,” says Mr Tripney.

Users should know what their soils need in terms of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and should have poultry manure analysed. Incorrect applications of poultry litter can quickly exceed Nitrate Vulnerable Zone limits and can also cause potash toxicity in dairy cows grazing land that’s been treated.

“It’s in the interest of poultry producers who want to develop a long-term market for their poultry manure to make sure buyers are well aware of the strength of this material. They must get themselves up to speed and have their litter analysed and provide a spec-sheet to prospective buyers.

“Poultry manure looks very good value and provides a rich source of nutrients but producers must act responsibly,” says Mr Tripney.