What is that smell?

Biosolids, improving soil one application at a time.

Here is a photo from my porch of biosolids being applied in our field.

Being a larger scale family farm, we are included in a lot of comments and complaints. The most common complaint we get is about our method of soil fertilization. Since social media, the ease of writing a complaining post about smell can easily generate a lot of feedback. Our farm uses biosolids. Many people may not know what a Biosolid is, but I’ll tell you. Straight from the EPA website reads; “Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. When treated and processed, these residuals can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth”. So, in simple terms to the common unknowing neighbor driving by a field its being applied to, it’s human feces. While it’s not at all raw sewage from the toilet drains, many people think it is.

Biosolids are highly regulated. Every 2 years the EPA is required to review if there are any additional toxic pollutants and set new standards if scientific evidence shows it can be harmful to humans or the environment. Environmental and human safety is always high priority for us and others. Remember, we eat what we grow as well. As you can imagine the uproar from our communities can be overwhelming. From social media posts, to newspaper editors, to news stations, you name it, we have talked to them. Often times I will address the social media post directly. Not everyone will understand why we use it, but some will after they are educated as to what it actually is and why we use it. We use it because it’s a very nutrient rich with high nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Biosolids are a great source for rebuilding the soil’s organic matter. We have conditioned so many of our fields with this great resource. Many people in communities wonder about the safety of using biosolids on crops. Biosolids are actually applied to raw ground, meaning it doesn’t have a crop planted on it yet, therefore no biosolids actually touch the fruit grown. The organic nitrogen and phosphorous are actually incorporated into the ground and the plant roots of the crop absorb the necessary nutrients needed as it grows. They are a cheaper route compared to commercial fertilizers, but work twice as better. Another great benefit for producers using Biosolids is, it’s helping to keep our landfills a little more open. Biosolids are taken to the local landfills, which in turn, will quickly fill them up. Rather than fill up our already quickly rising landfills, we ask that it be applied to our land. It truly feels like a win-win to us.  

As far as the smell associated with it, well, it doesn’t smell like roses. The smell that is typically in the air after its applied can either be a musty smell, ammonia smell, or just processed feces. Most of the odor is Sulphur and/or ammonia, which is also plant nutrients. Typically, all producers that acquire biosolids spread on their land will till(plow) the product in, resulting in dirt turning over it and incorporating the biosolid into the dirt and soil thus tapering off the smell faster. In normal circumstances the smell lasts anywhere from 3-5 days. Fields are usually only applied Biosolids once a year. We beg our community to tolerate the smell for just a short time once a year. Asking for community patience for something like this raises many eyebrows, but its surprisingly successful most of the time. Keeping calm and only asking and answering the real questions instead of the angry outburst will typically bring better communication and will resolve the problem.

We explain that we understand the communities’ anger and frustration, but we are also trying to mask the smell. Most people don’t care what it is, they just don’t want to smell it. After explaining that we are really trying to plow it in and do the only thing that can be done, most will understand and work with us. 



“Two out of every five people on Earth today owe their lives to the higher crop outputs that fertilizer has made possible.”

Bill Gates
Biosolids being applied.
Images from http://www.google.com

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Farm wife and mom. Doing my best to advocate for Agriculture while raising 2 littles.

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