The economic value of applying broiler litter

An ag economist says the rising cost of commercial fertilizer has farmers looking to alternatives like broiler litter. 

Jordan Shockley with the University of Kentucky says farmers need to run the numbers to see if it is a right fit for their operations.  “We actually had a tool on our Ag Econ website that will determine the maximum distance, one way, to make it basically break even with commercial fertilizer prices,” he says.  Shockley says for some farmers in Kentucky it makes enough sense economically to travel to as far as Georgia for broiler litter to fertilize their crops.

At the time of Shockley’s publication, commercial fertilizer prices were at $825/ton for urea, $930/ton for DAP, $857/to for potash, and $13.50/ton for lime.  Fall broiler litter prices are up significantly (~20%) compared to 2021 and have more than doubled compared to 2020.  

He tells Brownfield the broiler litter can provide additional value for operations.  “When we value broiler litter, we’re valuing it on the N, P, and K and the liming value,” he says.  “There’s other micronutrients and other things that have litter in demand.”

Shockley says before producers make any decisions, they first need to test their soils.  “Make sure that your soils actually need P and K,” he says.  “Because if not, you can just get by with applying commercial nitrogen.”

And, he says producers should also test the broiler litter to see if the nutrient profile matches their needs. Shockley says litter applied to fallow cropland in the fall will suffer nitrogen loss, making the ideal time to spread litter in the spring if weather allows. However, if producers apply litter to a field with cover crops, nitrogen loss is reduced.

Tools for applying litter to both grain crops and land in hay/pasture/silage are available and can be found on the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Economics website for budgets and decision tools.

AUDIO: Jordan Shockley, University of Kentucky

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