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Sustainable Utilisation of Poultry Litter

Supporting the NI poultry industry in developing sustainable treatment solutions to comply with the Nitrates and Water Framework Directives.

Project Description

The broiler poultry sector in Northern Ireland is a significant part of the local economy, sustaining on-farm employment for over 1400 people, with a further 4600 people employed in processing, and generating over 14% of the gross output of the local agriculture sector. However, the industry also produces a significant by-product – around 260ktpa (thousand tonnes per annum) of poultry litter (spent bedding material and manure generated by indoor rearing of birds).

Taking account of the opportunities for further industry expansion identified within the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s Strategic Action Plan, the annual production of poultry litter could rise to c400ktpa within the next few years, of which only c100kt per annum (25%) can currently be disposed of sustainably.

Traditionally, the poultry industry in Northern Ireland has relied on the spreading of poultry litter on agricultural land as its primary method for management of poultry litter. Application of manures, including poultry litter, to land over many years has exceeded agronomic need and resulted in phosphorus surpluses in a significant proportion of local agricultural soils.

Such practices are no longer sustainable if the risk of phosphorus loss via run-off to water courses is to be managed effectively. Phosphorus, in the form of phosphates, contributes to nutrient enrichment of streams, rivers and lakes (eutrophication) which is an important water quality issue for Northern Ireland. Action to address nutrient enrichment is required by both the EU Nitrates Directive and the EU Water Framework Directive.

To support the Northern Ireland poultry industry to develop sustainable treatment solutions to address the need to comply with the Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, the SUPL project was established jointly by DARD (now Dept. of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) and DETI (now Dept. for Economy) during 2012. Phase 1 of the project was completed through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) as a ‘pre-commercial procurement’ process to develop the proof of concept of potential technology solutions. Phase 1 of the project has stimulated the development of a number of technology options for the treatment of poultry litter which appear to demonstrate technical viability.

Having reviewed the outcomes from the SBRI Phase 1 contracts, the SUPL Steering Group concluded that a necessary next step prior to full commercial roll-out, would be the construction of commercial size ‘demonstrator plants’ in order to prove the technical, operational and commercial viability of the technologies to the poultry sector, investors, funders and regulators.

This would require technology suppliers to design, finance, construct and operate such demonstrator treatment plant(s) and the poultry sector and technology suppliers to agree appropriate poultry litter supply contracts. However the Steering Group also recognised that government support would likely be necessary to facilitate the capital cost of these projects. A Strategic Business Case outlining a proposal to set up a £12million ‘SUPL Loan Scheme’ to lend, on commercial terms, up to 40% of the finance required to fund the construction of demonstration plant(s) was therefore developed; and was approved by DfE and signed off by both the DAERA and DfE Ministers in June 2014.

Following soft market testing with funding providers and the technology sector, the scheme documentation was finalised and approved to allow the Scheme to be publicly advertised on 20th June 2014. The first call on the loan scheme was launched in July 2014 and closed in October 2014. A second call on the scheme was launched in January 2015 and closed in late April 2015. Developers interested in a loan from the scheme are required to submit a formal Expression of Interest.

Project Status

March 2015: As of March 2015, five formal expressions of interest have been received through the loan scheme and are currently under consideration by InvestNI.

SIB Involvement

SIB has provided a Project Director and Project Co-ordinator to the project, who have managed the Phase 1 SBRI competition for DAERA/DfE and are supporting InvestNI with the Loan scheme.


For Further Information

Alan McVicker

Chicken Farming - Tractor