Nutrient Availability from Poultry Litter Co-Products

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Virginia Tech

Phosphorus (P) is a nutrient of concern in the Chesapeake Bay watershed due to nutrient imbalances in areas with confined animal feeding operations. By converting poultry litter to an ash via thermal conversion, nutrients are concentrated and are economical to ship out of nutrient surplus watersheds to nutrient deficient regions, such as the corn-belt. We initiated incubation and field studies on sandy loam soils to test P and potassium (K) availability from poultry litter ash (PLA). Four PLA products, derived from different sources using different combustion techniques, and 2 biochar products were characterized. Poultry litter (PL) co-products were compared to a no-fertilizer control and inorganic P (triple super phosphate; TSP) and inorganic K (muriate of potash; KCl) fertilizer at similar rates. In the incubation study, standard fertilizers (TSP and PL) had the greatest initial availability for P (55.50% TSP; 9.13% PL) and K (97.99% PL), respectively. The PL co-products varied in availabilities based on thermo-conversion system from 1.60- 8.63% for P to 8.14- 88.10% for K. One ash co-product (ASH4) produced similar availabilities to the industry standard fertilizers after 56 days. In conclusion, co-products from combustion thermo-conversion systems were found be superior to gasification and pyrolysis systems when the desire was to produce the most plant available P and K dense PL co-products. In the field studies, yield, Mehlich-I extractable soil nutrients, plant tissue and grain samples, and organic matter content was used to compare treatments. Poultry litter ash co-products were highly variable due to the thermo-conversion system and feedstock of formation. If all ideal combustion criteria are met, then PL co-products are feasible to use as fertilizer sources, but will need to be individually analyzed for nutrient content before making application recommendations. A greater amount of the co-products will have to be applied to meet the same nutrient availability of the standards due to their lower availability. Fresh PL tends to be the better fertilizer due to its added N content, which is lost in thermo-conversion systems and would have to be supplemented with the ash co-products. Biochars tend to be less available than their ash counter parts. More research using the water soluble availabilities instead of the total concentration nutrients of the co-products are needed to be able to identify stronger relationships with standard fertilizers.

poultry litter, poultry litter ash, thermo-conversion, nutrient management, Phosphorus, potassium, Water quality, soil, nutrient cycle