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Perdue AgriRecycle litter recycling operation exceeds a billion pounds

More than 100 million pounds of nutrients managed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

When Perdue AgriRecycle, the first-ever, large-scale poultry litter recycling plant began operation in the spring of 2001, Perdue Chairman Jim Perdue appeared in a newspaper ad, holding a shovel in front of a 1,500-ton pile of chicken litter. The ad’s headline read: “To clean up the environment, you really have to take a lot of …”

“Manure” was the word that finished his quote. In the eight years that Perdue AgriRecycle has been operating on the Delmarva Peninsula, the company has, indeed, taken a lot of manure –more than a billion pounds. In fact, the total managed by the operation at the end of 2009 exceeded 1.3 billion pounds. That’s 650,000 tons.

Perdue AgriRecycle collects chicken litter – a mixture of manure and natural bedding material – providing Delmarva poultry producers another option for their litter, other than using it as fertilizer for crops.

The plant then dries, heats and processes the litter to produce a line of organic fertilizer products that are approved for use by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), under the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. Perdue AgriRecycle also relocates litter to agricultural operations where the nutrients are needed, including Pennsylvania mushroom growers.

Keeping excess nutrients out of Chesapeake watershed

“So far, we’ve handled more than 650,000 tons of raw litter from Delmarva chicken houses,” said Cathy Klein, Vice President of Co-Product Sales for Perdue AgriBusiness. That equates to some 52 million pounds of nitrogen, 26 million pounds of phosphorus and 39 million pounds of potassium.

“That’s more than 100 million pounds of nutrients we managed, with about half of that going to uses outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Klein. 

A major investment in protecting the environment

Perdue invested $13 million to build Perdue AgriRecycle in 2001, and has invested another $17 million in keeping the operation running. Perdue AgriRecycle was a “green” venture, but, until a few months ago, operated in the red.

 “From an environmental perspective, Perdue AgriRecycle was the right thing to do at the right time,” said Steve Schwalb, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability for Perdue. “But, as a business model, Perdue AgriRecycle was ahead of its time.”

“When we started Perdue AgriRecycle in 2001, there wasn’t as much demand for organic fertilizer,” said Klein. “That’s beginning to change. Today, you’ll find our product in brand-name organic fertilizers sold to consumers, and we ship in bulk to organic agriculture customers.”

“I think it’s a real testament to Perdue’s commitment to the environment that the company not only led the industry by investing in litter recycling, but also continued to support the operation, even through some of the most economically challenging times the poultry industry has ever seen,” added Schwalb.

Value beyond profit

At the beginning of the decade, Perdue realized that the ongoing loss of farmland to residential and commercial development meant that some of Delmarva’s poultry producers would need an alternative to the traditional use of poultry litter as crop fertilizer.

“Perdue invested in Perdue AgriRecycle because we wanted to preserve agriculture on the Shore,” said Klein. “As Jim Perdue has said, Agriculture on Delmarva is a three-legged stool made up of poultry producers, grain farmers and the poultry companies. We all need each other.

“Even though Perdue AgriRecycle was operating at a loss for the first seven years, we knew it had value to the environment and to agriculture,” said Klein. “That’s a value that measured beyond the bottom line.”


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