Make no mistake about it: Alabama still has work to do in the phosphorus department. Soil testing reveals a mixed phosphorus picture throughout the state.

“We have some counties, for example, Cullman, in which 58 percent of samples tested very high or extremely high in phosphorus,” Mitchell says. “On the other hand, only about 10 percent of samples from Perry County tested very high or extremely high.”

This high contrast between Cullman, a poultry producing area, and Perry County underscores the longstanding under-utilization of poultry litter throughout much of the state, he says.

Despite these challenges, Mitchell is confident supply and demand factors will soon work to promote a wider distribution of poultry litter throughout state as phosphorus supplies tighten.

“Up to now, we’ve tried to encourage more growers throughout the state to use more Alabama poultry litter and nothing worked until phosphorus prices hit a dollar a pound,” he says. “Then suddenly, we got more poultry litter moving around the state.”

Even so, fuel costs, along with phosphorus prices, ultimately will determine how this is played out, Mitchell says.

While spiking phosphorus prices will not likely increase conservation-tillage usage, Mitchell says they will instill producers with a higher appreciation for the no-till practices that have been adopted within the last 15 years.

“We’ve gotten away from conventional-tillage because of the soil erosion and we know that with soil erosion, you use phosphorus too.

“One advantage with no-till is that the phosphorus is held in place — it’s concentrated and plant roots can get it.”