Thursday, March 1, 2012

patentECO - No-Till Poultry Litter

No-till poultry litter

The Shenandoah Valley, where I live, is a major poultry producing area. The Valley lies within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a 64,000 square-mile area that contributes tributary flow, and pollutants, to the Nation’s largest and most productive estuary. In 2010, the Chesapeake Bay watershed produced more than 1 billion broiler chickens, 27.5 million turkeys, and 1.5 million tons of poultry litter, which is the bedding material and poultry manure produced by the poultry houses that raise the birds. Poultry litter contains significant amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, and represents a valuable source of agricultural fertilizer (and a potential alternative energy source).

These 1.5 million tons of litter also represent a significant source of nonpoint source pollution to the region’s waterways after the litter is applied to farm fields. An article this morning in our local paper covered a research project now underway in the area that is testing a new piece of agricultural equipment that can potentially reduce pollutant loads from field-applied poultry litter.

The equipment injects poultry litter below the surface of a field in a manner similar to that used in no-till agricultural practices. After some detective work, I found that this equipment was recently granted a US patent.

Patent number 7,814,848, “System for distributing poultry litter below the soil surface,” was granted to Daniel H. Pote (Booneville, AR) and Stephen M. Haller (Magazine, AR) on October 19, 2010. Pote and Haller are employees at the Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center in Arkansas; the Center is a part of the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. The patent is assigned to USDA. It is classified as 111/130, which covers planting technology that uses broadcasting. As of early January 2012, 278 patents are found in this subclass, with the earliest issued in 1841 for a rotary cultivator. It was Patent number 2,040; check out the drawing — it’s art.

Back to the present. Claim 1 states:

“An apparatus for distributing soil amendment materials comprising:

a) a plurality of soil cutting blades effective to cut a plurality of substantially parallel trenches in the soil when pulled through the soil in a direction of travel;

b) a dispenser for delivering soil amendment material to the trench cut in the soil rearward of said cutting blades, wherein said dispenser comprises:
1) a receptacle comprising opposed front and rear walls and opposed side walls, an inlet for said material, and a lower surface extending between said walls;
2) said lower surface comprising a plurality of substantially parallel elongated troughs disposed substantially longitudinally along the length thereof, each of said troughs having an outlet at the bottom thereof, wherein each said outlet is positioned adjacent to one of said front wall or rear wall and rearward of and over the path of travel of one of said cutting blades effective to dispense said material to said trench in the soil;
3) a plurality of screw augers, wherein one said auger is disposed in each of said troughs and said augers are adapted to both transport said material in a direction along the length of said troughs toward said outlets and grind or shear said material as said material is transported;
4) an upstanding face plate disposed laterally between said side walls substantially perpendicular to said troughs and augers, and on the side of said outlets which is upstream from said direction of transport of said material in said troughs, said face plate defining first and second volumes within said receptacle, said first volume being upstream of said face plate relative to said direction of transport of said material, and said second volume being downstream of said face plate relative to said direction of transport of said material and encompassing said outlets; and
5) said face plate comprising a bottom edge adjacent said troughs and an upper edge disposed above the uppermost radial edge of said augers, and said face plate further comprising a plurality of openings through which said screw augers pass.”

This technology, found in the patentECO Agriculture Index, allows biodegradable solid soil amendment material, such as poultry litter, to be disposed of in soil by cutting soil trenches, grinding or shearing the material, and distributing it to the trenches in the soil.

A November 2010 press release from ARS announced that an exclusive license was awarded to BBI Spreaders of Cornelia, GA to commercialize this technology. BBI’s spreaders can also use precision agriculture electronics. ARS estimates that nutrient losses from field application of poultry litter can be reduced by 90 percent. Widespread use of these spreaders could make a significant contribution to the long-term and ongoing efforts to improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.