RHODESDALE — Cutting-edge technology at Double Trouble Farm is helping to ensure that chicken litter doesn’t go to waste.
On Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan visited the Murphy family farm — the first Maryland poultry operation to install innovate technology that converts poultry litter into energy. The unit was installed in October. The $3 million pilot project is supported by a $970,000 animal waste technology grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Another $139,000 is being used to monitor the operation for a year through the University of Maryland.
The cutting-edge technology comes from Irish agri-business Biomass Heating Solutions Inc., or BHSL. Chicken manure contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the leading contributors to declining water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder joined Gov. Hogan during the visit and tour. He spoke about the importance of converting litter to energy. At the moment, he said, Eastern Shore chicken manure is often used to fertilize Eastern Shore farm fields. There is currently plenty of agricultural land on the Shore, but that could change.
“The reality is one day they (abundant farm fields) may not be there. Something is going to have to be done with (chicken litter),” Mr. Bartenfelder said. “This technology and this operation is going to enable poultry to remain not only an important part of Maryland agriculture, but the No. 1 industry for agriculture here in the state and really the machine that drives the economy on the Eastern Shore. That’s why it’s really so important for these projects to open up and get going.”
The system uses chicken manure as a feedstock by converting it to energy to heat the farm’s chicken houses and generate electricity.
“This really is innovative technology,” Gov. Hogan said. “Agriculture is our No. 1 industry in Maryland. Not everybody realizes that, and the poultry industry is our most important part of that. We’ve been as supportive as we possibly can toward our farmers and our poultry industry.
“This issue of chicken waste has obviously been a problem that everybody’s been wrestling with for a long time. Our agriculture community does a great job of being stewards of the land and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. … We’ve got to look to the future to additional ways to take care of this. This is a tremendous, exciting, innovative, environmentally friendly way to produce energy from chicken waste. … This is an example of what’s going to happen in the future.”
The system burns the manure in a heated layer of sand suspended over jets of air in a process called fluidized bed combustion. The process creates the energy that heats the chicken houses and any excess energy can be sold as electricity back to the power grid. The main by-product is an ash that can be sold as fertilizer.
Double Trouble Farm grows about 1.6 million birds each year in eight chicken houses on 112 acres in Rhodesdale. The unit is currently producing heat for one chicken house with plans to phase the heat into four of those houses.
In a statement released before the governor’s tour, Bob Murphy said he’s seeing positive effects from the heat.
“It’s early days but my sons and I have been really pleased with the impact of the BHSL unit,” Mr. Murphy stated. “The conditions in the chicken house have significantly improved with lower humidity and ammonia levels. We think that once we complete the pilot project, the data will encourage more farmers to consider this technology. I strongly believe that with the restrictions the State is putting on how farmers use poultry litter, the BHSL solution is our ticket for turning manure into energy. It’s a win win for all.”
County Councilman Tom Bradshaw attended the Double Trouble tour. The owner of Reid’s Grove Country Store, Mr. Bradshaw comes from a long line of Dorchester County farmers and watermen. He said the Murphy family operates another farm at Centennial and Rhodesdale Vienna roads. Before the installation of the BHSL unit, the Murphys were already employing environmentally friendly practices.
“Their other farm over on Centennial Road, that became the model for zero (water) runoff for building new chicken houses,” Mr. Bradshaw said while adding that four of the newer chicken houses at Double Trouble also produce zero runoff. “It shows that the farmers are trying to take every step they can to be as innovative as they can in handling their animal waste.”
Bob Zimberoff is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.