Forest Fertilization Using Chicken Litter
by Beth W. Richardson

1. Always sample your forest soil and the chicken litter to be sure that you do not apply too much of a certain nutrient. Every poultry house is different on the amount of nutrients and there are larger variations between broilers and layers.

2. If fertilizing a timber stand at establishment

Fertilizing at stand establishment is Not recommended for longleaf when the tree diameter is one and five inches because they will get too heavy in needle growth and bend over either from their own weight or from the additional weight of that unexpected snow and ice storm.

For loblolly and slash pines, control the weeds before applying the fertilizer or you will be growing good weeds instead of trees. An Exception is the piney woods flat bottoms where phosphorus (P) is the limiting factor, phosphorus does not increase weed growth in this situation. However, if you are adding poultry litter instead of artificial fertilizer, you are adding Nitrogen, thus, weed control is needed

Tax treatment: included into the reforestation amortization schedule of 7 years to include the half year convention (thus, eight years) and qualifies for the 10 percent tax credit.

3. Fertilization in mid rotation.

Important to fertilize when the trees have room to grow such as after a first time thinning. Thin the trees down to between 200 and 300 trees per acre. If you fertilize and the trees have no where to grow (diameter and crown), you have thrown your money away. Remember, stand density directly affects tree diameter. Tree stump height after thinning is very important. Make sure the loggers keep the stump height at ground level so that the tractor and spreader can pass through the woods without tearing up.

Fertilization after thinning has some advantages:

a. Recapture your cost sooner because you are moving trees from pulpwood stage to chip and saw and sawtimber quicker.

b. Once the trees have slowed in growth before thinning, the juvenile wood (or core wood) has stopped being produced. At this point, fertilization will increase the wood diameter growth without putting on more juvenile wood.

One disadvantage is when you are pumping nitrogen to the trees, it is a basic nutrient of life and many insects thrive on it. The trees can become a smorgasbord for insects. However, if the trees have room to grow, and if the best trees were left after the thinning, these trees should be able to produce enough sap to ward off any insect problems.

Prescribed fire should be a part of the management two to three years after chicken litter or any fertilization application.

Tax Treatment: the IRS has made an unofficial ruling (Not in Writing) that forest fertilization cannot be Expensed because the benefits last longer than one year. Thus, their position is that a forest landowner must use a five year amortization schedule with the year convention, thus, it is amortized over 6 years.

Cost: This is so new that there is not an established market of cost. However, there are the costs of moving the litter and spreading it. On the other side of the coin is that some state agencies are limiting what can be spread on crop and pasture land; thus, some chicken growers will be looking for alternative places to spread chicken litter which will comply with state regulations.

Conclusion:

If you wish to try the chicken litter fertilization, then:

a. Pick up a dialogue with your chicken producer neighbors and strike up a deal

b. Get soil samples of your forest soil types and a nutrient analysis of the chicken house that is producing your fertilizer.

c. Talk to an expert about how many tons per acre of chicken litter you need based on the soil and chicken litter samples.

d. Have your trees thinned or in a position that they will have room to grow after the fertilizer has been applied.