Farmers fuming as poultry muck goes up in smoke
Muck burning power stations
are causing grief in East
Anglia as they deprive
growers of a valuable
Andrew Blake investigates
EAST Anglian arable farmers fear power stations burning poultry manure could deny them a valuable crop input.
The alternative, a by-product of electricity generation, is more expensive, less environmentally-friendly and lacks a key ingredient, they maintain.
Glenn Buckingham, manager at Helmingham Estate Farms, Framsden, near Ipswich is among several growers who believe the Fibrowatt plant at Thetford, opening next month will swallow up much of the muck they previously relied on to keep land in good heart.
Mr Buckingham uses up to 3000t of poultry litter a year, mainly ahead of winter rape and second wheats, on the farms 567ha (1400 acres) of arable land. For the past five years he has had to compete for supplies with a Fibrowatt power station 19km (12 miles) away at Eye, Suffolk backed by an NFFO grant.
"We find the muck provides all the phosphate and potash for our arable cropping. It also supplies a total of about 80kg/ha of N in the first and second years after application. The organic matter is also valuable on our Hanslope and Beccles series sandy loam over clay soils.
"We have been paying £6/t delivered. That it is good value when triple superphosphate costs £130-140/t." But for various reasons, not least the £9000 spent on installing a concrete pad for safe storage, he says he cannot afford to pay any more.
The new Thetford station has capacity to burn up to three times the amount Eye can handle, says Mr Buckingham. "I believe it is paying producers more and certainly supplies are going to dry up."
Main hope for a continuing supply lies with a few producers who prefer the simplicity of tipping direct to farms rather becoming involved with contracts and the hassle of loading lorries, he says.
Fibrophos, the recycled fertiliser made by the power stations by blending the ash with chalk, is no substitute for the raw product, says Mr Buckingham. "It works out more expensive per unit of P and K. It contains no nitrogen. But above all it does not provide organic matter."
Poultry waste has long been regarded as a valuable soil structure improver on light valley soils at Great Glemham Farms, Saxmundham, Suffolk. Hauling it long distances and burning it is environmentally unsustainable, maintains Lady Cranbrook, who is a working partner in the 355ha (877-acre) family business.
"Last year we used 1000t before oilseed rape and second and third wheats. By putting on chicken manure we use substantially less bagged N, P and K fertiliser which is all sourced using fossil fuel." But supplies only became available because the product was too wet to burn at the Eye power station, she notes.
"I would be sorry to see it go," comments Roy Steward, who has used up to 500t a year on the 170ha (420 acres) he farms at nearby White House Farm, Dennington. "We have been taking it for about 15 years. I use it mainly before oilseed rape to take the sting out its N.
"Although Fibrophos could do the job, it costs more and brings no organic matter benefits," he maintains. "I want the muck." *
• Valuable organic fertiliser.
• Less available to farms.
• Power stations can pay more.
• Environmental questions.
Why burn poultry litter and export the residual nutrient out of East Anglia when arable farmers can use the fresh waste by the truckload? asks Suffolk farmer Glenn Buckingham.