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April 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

Environmental Excellence
Jeff Helms

David Hodges conducts soils samples in the fields on which he will spread poultry litter.
When it comes to protecting the environment, Marshall County poultry producer David Hodges says he's not that different from most farmers in Alabama.

"I think I'm right along with 99.9 percent of the cattle and poultry growers in the state," he said. "As a rule, I believe most farmers are following the rules and trying to do a good job."

Well, if Hodges' assessment of the situation is correct, farmers aren't just doing a "good" job. According to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association (USPEA), they are doing an "excellent" job. That's because, last year, Hodges and wife Martha received the USPEA's Farm Family Environmental Excellence Award.

As one of only five poultry growers in the nation to receive the award, Hodges was presented a trophy and a check for $1,000 during an all-expense-paid trip to the association's meeting in Atlanta. Looking back on all the publicity he's received since winning the award, Hodges said what really sets his farm apart is record keeping.

"We keep records on everything," said Hodges, holding up a three-ring binder that he explained has grown from one inch to three in the past few years. "Since 1999, I can tell you where every bit of (poultry) litter that has left this farm has gone."

Hodges currently leases about 1,100 acres of land, 750 of which are suitable for the application of poultry litter. He spreads litter twice a year--spring and fall--based on soil samples conducted every three years.

When it's time to spread the nutrient-rich fertilizer, Hodges said he tries to be considerate of his landlords and their neighbors. "We notify the neighbors if we are going to be spreading, and we don't spread if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction," he said.

Hodges' environmental stewardship, however, begins long before he ever applies the first load of litter. His entire farm is designed so any runoff collects in a sediment pond and is then filtered through grass waterways. He also composts his litter to reduce odor and kill bacteria, and he incorporates alum into the bedding in his poultry houses to help bind unused phosphorous. In addition, Alabama A&M University has a weather station on Hodges' farm, which allows the farmer to monitor factors that affect when and how he applies his poultry litter.

A third-generation poultry producer, Hodges said he believes the work he's doing today will help ensure his sons, Aubrey, 19, and Aaron, 16, will be able to continue the family business.

"I believe the rules and regulations that are in effect not only protect the environment, but they will allow us to continue to operate and produce the safest, most economical food in the world," Hodges said. "By following the rules now and by showing the public that we are doing a good job and being good stewards of the land, hopefully we can avoid unnecessary rules in the future."

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