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Research Update – Partnership with University of MN

Main Street Project is in our second year of a research project analyzing our integrative poultry-centered agricultural system. Our research partners include the University of Minnesota’s South East Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, the Alternative Livestock Program at the MN Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and support from the Center for Integrated Natural Resources Management (CINRAM). When designing the process for scaling-up and engineering changes to new systems so they can be adopted at a larger scale by farmers and the institutions, high quality research is a key to success. We are honored and encouraged by the great partnerships we have developed.

The research is conducting an analysis and comparisons of our free-range poultry system and related enterprise opportunities. Now during the second year, we are focusing on the working environment inside the buildings, particles in the air that can affect the health of the birds and also the farmer or anyone working in the facilities, the economics of the system and the related field application and cropping systems that result from manure (energy) management.

One of the specific questions we are researching revolves around this important idea of energy management. We are looking into manure composting and testing if some current assumptions that require additional on-farm steps and energy are really necessary.  If we can, we want to avoid the energy and work, associated with managing composting processes and go directly to sheet composting and a faster transformation of that energy into edible, marketable products, less air and soil pollution and more support of the soil’s naturally occurring micro-biota.

MSP Alley CroppingOur research is testing by conducting a “sheet composting” analysis;  moving the manure that the birds deposit at night in their shelter from the poultry building directly into a field designed for alley cropping systems (where annual crops are planted the alleys between perennial crops such as elderberries and other fruits or forest species). We are seeing if this is possible to do while meeting all food health and safety requirements. Current standards call for full composting of manure before using it for fresh vegetables. So our experiment, with support and research design from our academic partners, will test the safety and standards achieved using this method.

So, last Fall (Fall 2014) we spread four inches of fresh manure from our meat birds into an experimental plot. This Spring (Spring 2015) samples were collected to measure salmonella and other bacteria that could present a contamination issue and that may be growing in the system, and the field is now planted with spinach and cantaloupes. Two of the riskier fresh crops. A careful monitoring of this process will allow us to settle this issue and present a whole new standard for agronomical management that is certifiable and scalable, while saving time, resources and creating a more efficient energy transformation flow and ratio from feed, to manure to vegetable production.

Our aim is to create optimum energy management in our regenerative poultry-centered agricultural system – yet also maintaining safe conditions is a priority. Testing to see if we can shorten the conversion time from feed being fed to poultry, to poultry being produced to nutrients contributing to annual vegetables..will increase the economic performance of the system as a whole.  Stay tuned, all of this gets more interesting as we go forward.