Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:05/26/2011 Updated:06/05/2015

This is the first of a 2-part blog about M. Marsh Farms in South Carolina: minority-owned, hedged through production for two completely different markets, and innovator in farm waste and energy management.

You might not expect M. Marsh Farms, a 185-acre poultry and turf operation in the northeast midlands of South Carolina, to be a leader in green energy.  You might not expect that their most recent equipment purchase served as a backdrop for President Obama at a renewable energy speech in Reno, Nevada.  And yet, that is exactly the case.  

Marc Marsh and his wife Melanie, owners of M. Marsh Farms, are innovators in both their agricultural operation as well as their energy sourcing.  They exemplify precisely the type of private landowners that America needs if we are to maintain productive working lands.  Imagine if Mr. and Mrs. Marsh were typical, rather than exceptional, and you quickly get the picture.

M. Marsh Farms, in a joint project with the South Carolina Energy Office, received support to install an innovative form of renewable energy several years ago.  Since 2010, Marc and Melanie have had a poultry manure gasifier, and since February of this year, they’ve been waiting for delivery of the “Green Machine” from ElectraTherm.  With that machinery in place, they will be able to convert the heat generated from burning their gasified poultry manure into electricity, which he’ll sell back to the Lynches River Power cooperative.  Marsh farm itself will not use electricity from the grid but will survive using energy produced 100% from the gasifier and Green Machine.


Marc Marsh is a soft spoken man who has worked in poultry most of his life.  After graduating in 1990 from NC State with a Bachelor’s degree in Poultry Science, he went to work for Tyson.  For 13 years he specialized in breeder management.  “I always knew what I wanted to do,” says Marsh.  “I grew up on a farm, helping my parents raise turkeys for meat on about 100 acres in North Carolina.”   

Down on the Farm

Marsh purchased his farm while he was working at Tyson and made the decision to become a full-time farmer in 2000.  He likes running his own farm and the degree of security that comes with it.  “Some days it’s fun being your own boss,” he says.  “My wife is from Oklahoma and was raised on a farm also. It’s what we both thought we wanted to do as kids.”  

Marsh’s operation began as a poultry farm, with some acreage for cropland and hay or soy.  Eggs are a staple throughout the world, so Marsh knew he was in a good business.  His contract with Tyson began with a selection of purebred birds raised especially for breeding purposes.  The eggs Marsh raises are shipped to other operations where they are hatched out and become egg layers.  

The fact that his poultry contract pays on square footage of the poultry buildings and not the production of his flock makes his cash flow considerably smoother than it might otherwise be.  “I knew it was a good deal when Tyson offered it to me.  It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, but it’s fair.  Tyson is a very fair company,” says Marsh.

The Uncertainty of a Farmer’s Life
 
However, such contracts are not without drawbacks.  Marsh notes that poultry farms like his have a lifespan.  The infrastrucThe "hen house."  Photo courtesy of Susan Griggs Photography.ture and buildings depreciate. His deal with Tyson began as a one-year contract, but now it’s a 5-year contract that expired this spring.  “This place was built in the 1980s, that’s why I have concerns.”  The poultry company might ask him to rebuild at some point.  He’s not sure he’d want to do that.  

I originally spoke with Marc in February, and he told me to call back in the spring when he’d have his contract renewal decision from Tyson.  As it happened, I called him back on the very day he’d accepted an offer to extend the supply contract to December 2011, with a 2% increase.  Beyond that, it’s still uncertain.  Of course, he noted that the 2% increase will be the first one since about 2001.  “As an independent contractor, you don’t have much leverage,” he said, but Marsh enjoys working with Tyson.

Come back next week to learn what Marc did to avoid putting all his eggs in one basket....

Feedback

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
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re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
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re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: SIPHO. SIBANYONI on: 02/23/2015

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re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: re: kavuma ibrahim on: 04/01/2014

Mr. Ibrahim, the company that makes the gasifier, ElectraTerm, has a good explanation on their website: http://electratherm.com/

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: kavuma ibrahim on: 04/01/2014

Am frm Uganda and i hav liked the word.some more explanation of how hios gasfier works please.

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: Alemu Ejerssa from Ethiopia, Addis Ababa on: 02/23/2015

First of all I want to appreciate your and ypour wife's initiation to be your Boss. at the time when I see your information I am on the way to start small poultry farm that can accomodate around 300 up to 400 in number. Any ways I want to have a contact with you to get knowledge and technology transfer. So please Sir and Madam I am begging you to help me on my future career. Sincerely yours, Alemu Ejerssa

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re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: Duclos Dolce on: 07/09/2013

I want to know how to raise chickens in a little farm. Please emaail me or call me to have an open conversation about that. 954-554-0922 D. Dolce

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: Amos Eno on: 07/01/2013

Alister, I would contact the company mentioned in the article, ElectraTherm. They're listed on PLN; just put their name in the Find Resources box.

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: Alister Armitage on: 07/01/2013

Where can I purchase a manure gasifier

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: suliman on: 07/01/2013

I am from Afghanistan i want to build hen form to ingress ecnamical in Afghanistan

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: thanuganesh on: 04/22/2013

Plz tell me hen farm busness

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: S. Griggs on: 07/01/2013

How do I read the second part of this two-part article? Cheers, Sue

re: Chicken Farm Turns Poultry Litter to Power
By: S. Griggs on: 02/23/2015

People like Marc and Melanie are truly what we need more of! Great article and great people! M. Marsh Farms is way ahead of its time!