State agriculture and environmental officials are reviewing a proposal by a small Texas company to build a factory on the Eastern Shore that would convert poultry manure into an insoluble fertilizer that might prevent the leaching of harmful nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
"It's an interesting concept that has great potential," Bradley Powers, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said yesterday of the plan by Houston-based Ag Org Texas Co.
"If they can do what they say they can do -- pay farmers for their manure, produce a value-added product that has no environmental impact on the bay, that would be great," added George Chmael, staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, after listening to the company's proposal.
"I couldn't tell if I was smelling snake oil or not, but we were intrigued by what they proposed," Chmael said.
Ag Org officials made presentations to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a large poultry processor this week in hopes of winning their support for a venture they think can help Maryland with a major pollution problem and turn a profit in the process.
Martin A. Reiner, one of the four partners of Ag Org (which stands for Agriculture Organic), expected some skepticism when he came to Maryland.
He invited state officials to tour the company's plant in Bentonville, Ark., or visit the rice fields in Texas were the fertilizer is applied.
Reiner said the technology involves mixing poultry manure with three other organic ingredients and baking the mix into time-release pellets about the size of raisins.
The mix, he said, is 80 percent insoluble. The 20 percent in nitrogen and phosphorus that leaches out of the fertilizer is absorbed by plants as they grow. It would take five years before all the nutrients are released into the soil and absorbed by plants.
Scientists suspect that excess nutrients in the water contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria in three Eastern Shore waterways last year.
Ag Org wants a partner to pay the estimated $6 million cost of building a plant in the heart of Maryland's poultry industry.
With that in mind, Ag Org executives met with Perdue Farms Inc., the largest poultry processor in the state.
"We want a partner to put up 100 percent of the capital needed to build a plant," Reiner said. "We would supply the technology and the marketing skills."
He said the plant would produce about 20 jobs.
"We'll consider it," said Keith E. Rinehart, vice president of environmental services at Perdue. "I think it is doable. But we have to decide whether or not we want to be in that business.
"Their approach seems plausible. They appear to be legit. I had an associate visit their plant in Arkansas and they seem to be doing what they say they were doing. They are probably for real."
Pub Date: 10/22/98