It all started when I purchased 5.5 acres in northwest Arkansas with an old poultry house on it. The property was perfect for me; it had roughly 2 acres of flat pastureland for my future horses, it already had city water and electricity running to it, and a new roadway would make access incredibly easy. There was just one thing wrong with it. What was I supposed to do with that old poultry house? Surely, I thought, Arkansas would have a poultry house remediation program given they are the second largest poultry producing state in the nation, right? Boy! Was I wrong!!!
Thus started my journey into learning more about poultry operations in northwest Arkansas and across the nation as a whole. I learned that Arkansas and Oklahoma had previously been in litigation over water quality issues resulting from poultry operations in northwest Arkansas. I also learned that old poultry houses can continue to leak high levels of nutrients into the water table for years after the roofs cave in and precipitation seeps into the environment. This certainly seemed to be probable when I tested the soils on my property under the poultry house and an adjacent pad where the house had burned down even though neither had been in operation for roughly 15 years. The results were staggering! So, what could be done? Were there ways to benefit soil health, improve water quality, and provide wildlife habitat while also reducing the legal risks for poultry producers and the industry? What about operational poultry sites? Could something be done there that would also, potentially, be a win-win proposition for all involved?
Enviroscapes believes there are solutions that can work for all parties involved taking a two-pronged approach: 1) Necessary remediation of old, dilapidated poultry sites, and 2) value innovation on operational poultry sites. The common thread in both these approaches would be the creative use of native, warm-season grasses and forbs on-site to remediate the soil and provide new sources of revenue for operational sites……all while improving the surrounding ecosystem services that make Arkansas the beautiful “Natural State” that it is!
The low-hanging fruit at the moment is addressing the need to remediate old poultry sites. What Enviroscapes is proposing is not anything new; a few other states already have remediation programs for old poultry sites operated through USDA Natural resource Conservation Services (NRCS). In most cases, the top 7″ or so of soil (i.e., the “cake”) is removed prior to taking the poultry house down. Wood chips or another source of carbon is added to the soil to help organisms bind up some of the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous found in the soil. The site is then replanted with native grasses and forbs. Because of the deep rooting systems of these native grasses, they act as natural sponges to help absorb the nutrient-laden precipitation before it can make it to the water table.
In addition to the deep rooting systems of native perennial grasses, many of them are also very dense, which helps to stabilize soils and reduce erosion. Much of the biomass of these native grasses is below ground and out of the sight of the public eye where it traps carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Taken in combination, the water retention and soil stabilization of these grasses can also help reduce downstream flooding events that we are seeing occur so often in the upper Midwest where many of these grasses have been removed to provide more area for row crop farming.
Enviroscapes Ecological Consulting, LLC, is currently trying to collaborate with several natural resource agencies, non-profit organizations, industry professionals, and private companies to explore the opportunity to create a poultry house remediation program in northwest Arkansas. We hope to have a series of networking events in the near future to bring these potential collaborators together to explore options for funding such a program and hiring the technical expertise to make our vision into a reality. We welcome you to contact us if you would like more information or think you or your organization can provide assistance!