Ramble On

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Note from a Page County Farmer, re: Fibrowatt

The Fibrowatt issue has consumed my blog for a month now – it’s the first time there’s been a topic of this importance to engage with. I’ve tried to reach out to as many stakeholders as I could – including farmers. I was finally able to have a discussion with a couple of Page County farmers; while those conversations have ranged over a variety of concerns and considerations, I’ve summarized some of the material here.

Since I forgot to get permission to identify the correspondent, I am withholding that information, and I have made a few edits to protect the farmer's identity. Overall, this is a well framed discussion not only about farming economics and the potential impact of a Fibrowatt plant, but in general the state of the industry in Page County.

As the Page County BOS prepares to hear the Fibrowatt proposal, this kind of insight should inform any decision they consider.

"As far as the plant goes I am strongly against it. The emissions and the smokestack are of some concern but are not the reason I am against the plant. As a life-long Page County resident, the need for financial stability is the basis of my thought process.

From an agricultural standpoint, the plant stands to be detrimental to the [farming] industry. We use chicken litter to plant our corn because it is an excellent starter fertilizer. Fibrowatt states that they will pay between [$X-$XX]/ton of litter. Currently, poultry litter is above $[XX]/ton because of competition. The competition exists because DEQ will pay $[XX]/ton to haul the litter out of Page County. If Fibrowatt comes in and buys up the remaining litter it will put us and other farmers at a financial disadvantage.

An article in the Southeast Farm Press showed the corn yields in Virginia dropped because of higher fertilizer prices. Assuming the same trend, corn yields in Page County would drop, resulting in corn being sold and reflected in sales dollars that Page County Ag generates. Ironically, our major corn buyers are poultry companies. If poultry companies have to spend more in trucking for corn, thus decreasing their margins, the poultry grower will receive less payment for the chickens they produce. In this scenario, I only see lost sales dollars to the county's most powerful industry.

As far as poultry growers getting more in terms of total sales dollars for their litter, I don't really see that happening because of the current price of litter. I see a profit margin decrease happening for poultry growers instead of an increase. Currently, some poultry growers don't clean out the poultry houses after each flock leaves because of the cost of putting the shavings back in the house. We have one grower who [cleans much less frequently]. If poultry growers don't clean out everytime then Fibrowatt might not have enough litter to burn year round.

During down time Fibrowatt states they will burn wood shavings to compensate. Add to that Page County and surrounding areas have never had abundant sources of shavings. Simple economics says this should increase the cost of shavings to the poultry growers. If Fibrowatt teams up with the poultry companies to force clean outs after each flock leaves this will really cause the cost of shavings to sky rocket. This would cause the overall profitability of the poultry grower to decrease."

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