Millsboro poultry farmer William W. Clifton was honored Saturday as one of three runners-up for the 2014 Environmental Stewardship Award.
Clifton took home a $500 prize, a plaque and a sign to display outside his farm during the awards ceremony, which concluded the Delaware Agriculture Week activities at the state fairgrounds in Harrington.
The runner-up award recognized Clifton’s efforts to reduce chicken waste from entering the water supply, while improving water quality on and around his farm.
“This means quite a bit to me,” said Clifton who raises chickens for Mountaire Farms, and has a capacity of 51,400 roasters. “I was surprised to learn our farm was chosen because it’s one of the older ones.”
Clifton, who was born on a chicken farm, said he has been in the chicken-raising business for all of his 68 years.
His farm was chosen for the honor in part because he ensures chicken manure is kept under cover before it is applied to fields as fertilizer, and because he has planted a tree buffer to keep odors from drifting.
Clifton said keeping pollutants under control is a major facet of his operation.
“We’ve kept up with the times,” he said. “And it’s nice to be recognized with something like this.”
Other runners-up included Chris and Cindy Long of Wyoming and Robert and Lisa Masten of Milford.
The top award went to Little Creek’s Georgie Cartanza, who won a $1,000 prize, along with the plaque and farm sign.
Dan Shortridge, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, said a special committee goes out and inspects each nominated farm before choosing the award winners.
The committee looks for farmers who display a real determination to improve environmental quality, particularly in the area of water quality, on their farms, he said.
“Poultry growers in Delaware have really taken the lead in water quality and nutrient management for two decades,” Shortridge said. “It’s a slow process, but we’re starting to see these investments pay off.”
Poor nutrient management from poultry farms can result in byproducts from raising chickens – namely manure and effluvia from composted dead birds – can get into the water supply, polluting underground water sources, Shortridge said. Stormwater runoff moves those pollutants into nearby rivers and streams, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay.
A study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has shown excessive nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, degrade water quality in the bay by feeding algae that block sunlight to underwater food supplies. When the blooms die and decompose, they deplete the oxygen supply in the water, killing fish and shellfish.
Agricultural runoff contributes about 40 percent of the nitrogen and about 50 percent of the phosphorus entering the bay, according to the study.
A preliminary study by the University of Delaware has shown some success in decreasing the amount of agricultural runoff entering the Chesapeake, Shortridge said.
The awards were presented by Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, (D-Del.), Nutrient Management Commission Chairman Bill Vanderwende and Delaware Nutrient Management Program Administrator Larry Towle.