Why North Carolina’s poultry industry isn’t creating biogas like hog farms are

As pork producer Smithfield Foods commits to major investments in waste-to-energy projects in North Carolina, don’t expect a similar pledge from chicken or turkey companies in the state any time soon.

North Carolina utilities are on pace this year to sell enough electricity derived from fowl droppings to power about 23,000 homes, a requirement under state law. Yet compared to the swine industry, converting animal waste into renewable energy has generated little synergy or enthusiasm.

“It hasn’t been a real firecracker issue for the poultry industry to beat the drums on it that much,” said Bob Ford, president of the state’s poultry federation, which represents both farmers and corporations.

It isn’t for lack of bird manure. Instead, poultry farmers and their corporate integrators have less public pressure and fewer incentives than their hog counterparts to convert it to energy. At the same time, critics say burning the waste — rather than capturing its gas — produces health-threatening air pollution that could cancel out its benefits.

North Carolina’s poultry business is a $36 billion endeavor, according to the state’s poultry federation, surpassing its better-known swine industry. North Carolina produces the second most turkeys in the nation, behind Minnesota, and consistently ranks among the top chicken-growing states.

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