Nutrients—from Fertilizer to Honey Wagons

Update Feb. 2014: 
This article points out that manure can be a gold mine for livestock producers.

More articles about “nutrients”…

Turning Poop into Fertilizer–Sustainable ag includes knowing what to do when “manure happens.” As this farmer says, “Today we’re going to follow our noses to the barn where we are turning poop into fertilizer. When something is removed from the land, you have to put something back.”

Manure–a Money Maker?  With the cost of fertilizer increasing, the manure produced by a livestock operation is often considered an additional source of income for an operation, rather than an expense. Putting a dollar value for manure can also help in decision-making for manure transactions and livestock expansions.

How well we research, plan, and implement the proper use of nutrients could influence how well we eat in the near future. A new CAST Issue Paper looks at the process shaping the current nutrient situation and the resulting requirements as world food production evolves during the next 40 years.  Food, Fuel, and Plant Nutrient Use in the Future is available free for download.  Speaking of nutrients…

When Post-Nutritional Waste Hits the Fan, It Might Be a Good Thing (updated from 2012)

Several current ag stories take me back to my manure pitchin’ days on the farm, and I now realize how important that job was. We knew that animals make excellent natural fertilizer, but we had no idea we were scooping out energy-producing “fecal fuel”—or that we could one day be working for Google or Apple because of it. 

Using methane from pig manure, Apple plans to build an enormous fuel cell installation at its North Carolina data center. Google has been working on a manure-to-methane plant with Duke University, and a Kansas project, supported by the USDA, is researching ways to use waste from cattle feedlots. A dairy farm in Washington state is converting manure into money by making methane. In other words, manure is big business.
I still haven’t scraped all the manure off my boots, so I’m old school enough to appreciate the best thing about animal waste—it is a natural nutrient farmers use to make the crops grow.  This popular video called “Water ‘n Poo” is an example of one of the many ways farmers recycle and sustain. The farmer drives, sings, and even radiates joy as he spreads his “honey” on the field.
During the pre-confinement era, hog houses had to be mucked out by hand, one pitchfork load at a time, and it was a Saturday morning ritual on our farm.  We’d prop a transistor radio on a dusty ledge, make sure our five-buckle boots were snug over our tennis shoes, and start slinging it. We’d talk, argue, yell top-40 lyrics, and think about how to get the smell out of our hair before the school dance that night.
Most Midwest farms today recycle manure in “honey wagons,” huge caldrons on trucks or behind tractors. They pull the liquefied manure from pits next to the confinement “motels” that dot the countryside.  This “smell of money” can raise issues.
Some communities try to restrict hog confinement placement, and letters to the editor reflect deep emotions concerning this situation. Some claim regulations are overly strict and the industry is vital to agricultural growth; others worry about health issues, decreased property values, and threats to groundwater. Although most seem to accept that hog farming is a vital industry, it’s the location that often raises a stink. You don’t need to be a scratch-and-sniff expert to know that manure smells different for the pig owners compared to the neighbors who live downwind. And water quality experts know that most farmers work hard to keep manure out of waterways, but fish kills and groundwater pollution in the Midwest indicate some problems still exist.
My brothers, cousins, and I generally worked without parental oversight on those barn-cleaning Saturday mornings. But occasionally, equipment would malfunction or a teenage argument would break out. When the “nutrients hit the fan,” we needed some regulating. Manure is a natural part of animal agriculture production, and now that the waste can be used for fuel as well as fertilizer, it is up to the producers and the public to figure out how much regulation the modern post-nutritional recyclers need.

by dan gogerty, photo from thedairymom.blogspot



Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.