In the early 1990s, poultry farmers saw a mortality rate of approximately four percent in their for-feed stocks. This resulted in the disposal of over eight-hundred thousand dead chickens in open pits, creeks, and waste dumps, creating a potential water contamination hazard. According to the United States Office of Technology Assessment, this disposal problem represents one of the most pervasive contributors to non-point source pollution of water supplies.
In order to avoid this contamination problem, the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District Board created the Polk County Poultry Litter/Compositing Program (PLC). This program created poultry compost facilities in which farmers could dispose of dead poultry and store chicken litter to later be used as fertilizer. While the primary purpose of the composters is to dispose of dead chickens, it also provides an avenue to improve water quality and a means to turn waste into useful product.
PLC also has had positive impacts on the local economy of Polk County, Tennessee. Polk County is a rural area in the eastern part of the state with a high unemployment rate and a stressed economy. In constructing the compost facilities, PLC provided jobs to local contractors and purchased over eighty-five percent of the materials needed for construction from within the Polk County area.
In conducting well water samples both before and after composters were built, PLC reports that fecal coliform salmonella and other bacteria have been dramatically reduced or completely eliminated since the installation of these new facilities. Likewise, the feedback from local farmers was been overwhelmingly positive, which anecdotally speaks to the success of the program. PLC prides itself on its role in fostering among farmers a support of innovative uses of waste and concern for the environment.