It always pains the Ol' Bloviator to learn of discord in his beloved ancestral stomping grounds of Hart County, Georgia, and the current brouhaha du jour is no exception, especially since it comes down to nothing more or less than a matter of chicken s___. With apologies for his apparent crudity, the O. B. ain't speaking metaphorically here. The good folks of Hart County are smiting each other hip and thigh over the question of how chicken manure can be most productively and/or least harmfully used. Poultry production is big in North Georgia, as you can tell if you ever find yourself downwind of one of the hundreds of large-scale, multi-house operations that dot the landscape. You may also suffer a similar assault on your olfactory system if you are nearby when the litter from these houses is being spread across the fields and pastures of the area.
Now, however, comes an outfit called
Fibrowatt,which originated in the U.K. but has
facilities in Minnesota and is looking to break out elsewhere, including North
Georgia. Fibrowatt's thing is to burn chicken poop (or actually the litter from
chicken houses, which also includes wood shavings) to convert water into steam,
which, in turn, will spin the turbines that will generate electricity. There
you are, poop to power, sold by the kilowatt hour. The ash residue of the
incinerated chicken droppings, sez Fibrowatt, at least, can then be sold back
to farmers as fertilizer. This all sounds pretty green, you have to admit, and in
then there's the 45 full-time jobs created directly by the facility at a projected
annual wage of $45,000, a figure well above the Hart County average
Not so fast, say the opponents, who include a good number of just plain NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) and some apparently earnest tree-huggers who object not only to the Fibrowatt facility's anticipated 300-foot smokestack but to what will be coming out of it. According to them, that will include dangerously high concentrations of (Yikes!) arsenic, not to mention sulfur dioxide, which is a major component of acid rain. Overall, they claim, the particulate count from such a facility would exceed that of the typically environmentally unfriendly coal-fired electric power plant. For their part, some farmers claim that the voracious Fibrowatt facility, which reportedly will be trucking in the chicken droppings 24/7 ( 100 or so potential trucking jobs here, but a lot of potential traffic jams as well) will gobble up so much of the area's chicken poop so that there'll be none left to spread over their fields. This is a serious matter since the rising petroleum costs have driven commercial fertilizer prices through the roof.
What these farmers and the environmentalist opponents of Fibrowatt don't say much about is the likely impact of all that chicken dooky they've been dumping all over the landscape for some time now. From the economic standpoint, chicken manure is cheaper as a fertilizer than dirt is as dirt, but the real kick that it gives to pastures and fields comes from its nitrogen content, which by the way, critics say is too low in the ash residue generated by Fibrowatt to make it adequate as fertilizer. Unfortunately, the nitrogen in chicken-squeezins' comes in a package laden with phosphorous and other nutrients in much heavier concentrations than is desirable. This is something that the O.B. thinks he actually knows a little bit about, as he indicates in this little slice from his forthcoming book:
In addition to the threats posed by commercial fertilizers, the more than a million tons of manure generated annually in Georgia's chicken houses contained not only nitrogen but more phosphorous than the sewage that might normally be produced by 40 million people in a year. Environmentalists warned that when chicken manure was spread on pastures and fields the nutrient-overrich runoff could stimulate excessive algae growth in streams and lakes, leading ultimately to oxygen deprivation sufficient to kill fish. Some scientists also linked the excess nutrients and algae resulting from poultry litter runoff to the toxic microbe pfiesteria piscicida, which is capable of triggering not only massive fish kills but confusion, memory loss, acute skin irritation, and other forms of distress in humans.
When the O.B. was an otherwise carefree country lad, his concerns about chicken droppings amounted to nothing more than avoiding the signature deposits left indiscriminately behind by our flock of "free-range" poultry. (Not only were we organic way before it was cool, we were organic when it was considered positively "uncool"). Needless to say, this was a matter of special concern during the barefoot days of summer, which, of course, ran from May to late September.
Things are a lot more complicated these days, and so my fellow Hart Countians find themselves in a sticky--and potentially stinky--situation that reveals just how complicated and uncertain are all matters where economic interests and environmental concerns become entangled. Still, the best suggestion I can give them is the exceedingly simple reminder bestowed on me daily by my precious Mother so many summers ago: "Watch your step."
PS: Some of the amateur shrinks in the rapidly thinning ranks of Cobbloviate-heads may recall a recent post about coffee made from beans found in civet poop, and think the Ol' Bloviator is manifesting an unhealthy fascination with all things scatological these days. To this, the O.B simply retorts, "Horse Hockey!" While we are still on the subject, however, he wishes to clear up what may have become a concern for those gourmets among the flock who might have encountered high- end restaurants not only serving civet-poop java, but featuring an entrée called "turducken." Turns out, it's just a chicken stuffed into a duck that is then stuffed into a turkey, although if the O.B. ever sees it on a menu, odds are he'll just opt for "the special," regardless of what it is.