Farmers face dead period for disposal of carcasses

Friday, July 2, 2010

SHELBYVILLE - An on-again, off-again six-month interim solution to the problem of livestock carcass removal is apparently on - but it will leave a two-week period in early July during which Bedford County farmers will have to worry about livestock disposal on their own.

Local and state officials met Wednesday at the University of Tennessee Extension offices on Midland Road to brief farmers on the issue. Bedford County Mayor Eugene Ray chaired the meeting on a subject that also affects Marshall County farmers.

Griffin Industries, which previously provided livestock carcass pickup under contract to county governments throughout Middle Tennessee, says that new federal regulations make it unable to provide that service any longer. The company had been using such carcasses to produce fertilizer, but under the new regulations would have to remove the brains and spinal cords of the animals, making the process no longer cost-effective. The company will end its pick-up services on Friday.

Ray said last year, 800 carcasses were disposed of by Griffin in Bedford County -- an average of more than two a day.

New hauler

South Central Tennessee Development District has been working on a solution for the next six months under which Griffin would have continued to pick up the carcasses but would have taken them to an Allied Waste Services landfill in Rutherford County for disposal. It is legal to dispose of the carcasses in a landfill, although not all landfills choose to accept them. Griffin officials tentatively agreed to the plan but were overruled by officials at the company's corporate office.

Now, SCTDD has lined up Appertain Corp. in Pulaski to provide the pickup services and transport the carcasses to the landfill in Rutherford County. But Appertain must refit some of its trucks and won't be ready to start pickup until about July 15.

Short dilemma

That leaves two weeks of hot weather in which local farmers may have to deal with dead livestock on their own. Burial of livestock may not be a practical long-term solution, but officials participating in Wednesday's meeting said it may be the best choice for farmers during that two-week period. In areas of Bedford County with very shallow soil, that may mean piling up soil, compost, wood chips or shavings to create a burial mound. The carcass must be at least two feet above bedrock and must be buried away from any well head, property line, public use area, or body of water as provided for by state regulations.

Another option might be for the farmer to haul the carcass to the landfill, although speakers Wednesday were not certain whether the landfill that has agreed to accept bulk disposal of carcasses would also agree to accept individual carcasses from individual farmers.

However, as pointed out during Wednesday's briefing, livestock also die while at veterinary offices or stockyards, which have fewer options. They would have to either transport the carcass to a landfill or depend on the kindness of a property owner to allow burial. It would be illegal for a property owner to charge for disposal of a carcass, since that would be considered operating an unlicensed landfill. It might actually be illegal for a property owner to even allow someone else's livestock to be buried, although state officials didn't indicate that it would be a high priority to enforce that rule in the case of a friendly agreement between two parties.

Costly plan

SCTDD's six-month interim program for landfill disposal will be expensive. The landfill costs alone will be $68 per ton, which SCTDD executive director Jerry Mansfield called "high as a cat's back," and it doesn't include Appertain's price for pick up and transportation. Counties may spend as much for disposal during the six-month period as they had been paying Griffin for an entire year of its services. The counties will contract with SCTDD, and SCTDD will contract with Appertain and with the landfill.

And the interim solution is just that -- a temporary fix.

"We've just bought time, is what we've done," said Mansfield.

Long-term solution?

SCTDD is researching the feasibility of a regional composting facility which would accept the carcasses from all of SCTDD's member counties as well as two other counties. He said a multi-county facility should cost less to operate than if each county tried to compost its own livestock carcasses. Middle Tennessee State University is studying composting operations. MTSU veterinarian Dr. John Haffner said that composting livestock takes a large volume of other compostable material -- at least 10-12 cubic yards per carcass. He said that when the system is properly operated, it's a great solution -- but if improperly operated, it can be smelly and create problems.

Incineration was called an impractical and expensive solution by several speakers -- expensive to set up and taking a full day to incinerate a single carcass.

Officials said they would publicize the proper contact number for Appertain's pick-up services as soon as arrangements have been finalized and the company is ready to begin.