Milford poultry farmers Robert and Lisa Masten were honored Saturday as one of three runners-up for the 2014 Environmental Stewardship Award during Delaware Agriculture Week at the state fairgrounds in Harrington.
The honor recognized their efforts to prevent chicken waste from entering the water supply, while also improving water quality on and around their farm.
“We try to keep things very neat and clean and do what we can to make it a better environment for the chickens,” Lisa Masten said. “I want to represent the business the best I can.”
The couple took home a $500 prize, a plaque and a sign to display outside their farm.
Other runners-up included Chris and Cindy Long of Wyoming and William W. Clifton of Millsboro.
The top award went to Little Creek’s Georgie Cartanza, who won a $1,000 prize, along with the plaque and farm sign.
The Mastens, who raise chickens for Allen Harim Foods, have owned their farm for less than three years.
The couple’s farm, which has a capacity to raise 80,000 broilers, was specifically recognized for their efforts to treat stormwater by running it through grassed waterways in the production area, and for planting cover crops to help decrease chicken nutrients in the soil. They also have set up their chicken houses so as to reduce odors in neighboring areas.
Masten, whose husband was not able to be present for the ceremonies, said she was “shocked” when notified of the award.
“There are a lot of people who do a lot with their farms and we were flattered to be chosen,” she said. “We really work hard to maintain our farm and to keep it nice.”
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 vegetation. 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 from Delaware, 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.