Hardy County innovator wins Vanguard Ag Competition

March 6, 2018

MORGANTOWN — Poultry farmer Joshua Frye of Wardensville is the winner of the 2018 West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI). Frye was honored Friday during a ceremony at the annual West Virginia Small Farm Conference in Morgantown.

He captured the statewide award for his eco-friendly method of turning chicken litter into renewable energy while producing fixed black carbon (biochar), a product that safely provides soil nutrients as well as captures and neutralizes heavy metals at contaminated sites and can filter air and water.

Frye operates Frye Poultry, a 700,000 to 800,000 broiler-per-year operation in Hardy County, so he knows a thing or two about chicken litter. “There’s 22 billion pounds of chicken litter like mine produced in the U.S. each year,” he said. Chicken littler includes bird excrement and bedding such as wood shavings, sawdust, straw and even peanut hulls.

In 2005-2006, Frye and friend Matt Harper were talking about the issue of bio-waste on farms when they decided to take a road trip to Illinois to examine a turkey litter gasification project that produced energy. That project got Frye thinking.

At first he began burning chicken litter to generate heat for his chicken houses, helping to offset the $50,000 to $60,000 a year he spent on propane. The process also produced nutrient-rich ash, but plants cannot effectively absorb these nutrients and the ash, through runoff, poses a danger to nearby streams. After years of study and with the advice of Tom Basden of the West Virginia University Extension Service, Frye modified a gasifier to turn poultry litter into fixed black carbon.

Working with Isabel Lima, a renowned researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Frye discovered that his biochar is not only rich in soil nutrients but it curtails runoff and neutralizes heavy metals in soil.

“This is a value-added product,” Frye said. “It keeps nutrients in the soil so you don’t have to keep applying fertilizer. And it can be used for remediation. This has the ability to be used at power plants to absorb mercury and make it inert. At this point we’re not sure exactly why but think it might have something to do with the phosphorus content.”

While Frye said similar technology is being adopted around the world, he’s just trying to capitalize on it here in West Virginia. “My game plan, my goal is to form a cooperative so everyone benefits.”

Bill Woodrum, director of Agricultural Innovations at RCBI, said judges were highly impressed with Frye’s contest application.

“Joshua Frye exemplifies the ingenuity that is the hallmark of farmers throughout history,” Woodrum said. “He identified a problem in his own agricultural operation and turned it into a sustainable, profitable and environmentally friendly venture, one that has great potential to benefit farmers worldwide. We’re proud to recognize his achievements and assist him in realizing the full commercial potential of his ideas.”

As winner of the West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition, Frye will receive a business assistance package valued in excess of $10,000, including product design and development, funding opportunities, business incubator space, marketing assistance and other services.

The West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition honors innovation and ingenuity in agriculture, recognizing an entrepreneur whose idea has potential to solve logistical challenges in the local food supply chain.

The annual contest is part of RCBI’s Agricultural Innovations initiative, a focused effort to improve opportunities for West Virginia’s farming and agricultural economy. Funded by a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the initiative supports and enhances a vibrant local foods system by promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.

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