CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An international poultry breeding company said last week it wants to ban litter-based fertilizers around its West Virginia farms because they can spread disease that may harm birds and people.
"Our concern is with the use of poultry litter on land within a three-mile radius of our turkey farms," Sandi Hofmann, Aviagen's marketing and administration director, said in a statement to the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
"Poultry litter can harbor pathogens that may not be killed by treatment, and some treatments can even give false negative results when the litter is tested," Hofmann said. "Establishing a quarantine zone around Aviagen's turkey farms is important to keep these pathogens from being introduced via the air, dust, beetles or rodents."
Dr. John R. Tomlinson Jr., a veterinarian at Fairlea Animal Hospital in Lewisburg, opposes Aviagen's opposition to local farmers using fertilizers made from sanitized litter from chickens and other animals to grow grass and other plants on their farms.
Aviagen wants to ban the use of those fertilizers within three miles of all its farms in West Virginia, warning litter-based fertilizers can spread a variety of dangerous diseases.
Aviagen Turkeys operates 22 farms and two hatcheries in the Greenbrier Valley. The company is owned by the Germany-based EW Group, but its American operations are based in Lewisburg. It has contracts or rental agreements with eight local farmers and provides more than 180 jobs, according to the company.
Tomlinson runs a 900-acre farm that raises about 1,000 feeder cattle annually. Using cheaper litter-based fertilizers, he said, saved his business $69,000 last year.
Alternative petroleum-based fertilizers, Tomlinson said, cost substantially more than litter-based fertilizers.
Tomlinson also criticizes the West Virginia Department of Agriculture's proposed "emergency rule" that he said would prohibit the use of poultry-litter fertilizers on 18,000 acres near Aviagen's farms.
On its website, the Department of Agriculture states, "Primary breeder farms [like Aviagen's farms] adhere to strict bio-security programs to prevent introduction of diseases, such as salmonella, mycoplasmas and Avian influenza, which can be spread through poultry and swine litter."