We see that question a lot on social media, along with “it smells like something dead”.
Yeah, we know it stinks. What am I talking about you ask?
According to the EPA website, biosolids are a product of the wastewater treatment process. During the treatment process the liquids are separated from the solids, then the solids are treated physically, chemically, and also filtered to produce the end product that we smell, biosolids.
“Why are you throwing poo out in your fields?!” Well, easy, it’s one of the best products out there to create a nutrient rich soil. Biosolids are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and other micronutrients needed for plant growth and nutrition. We have used soil tests on our own farms to make sure all needed nutrient requirements are met and that nothing harmful is polluting our soil. On our farms, we have seen an increase in earth worms. Earth worms only go to healthy soil, so that’s a really good sign. We use biosolids as a fertilizer, not just for a place to dump “sewage”.
In the United States, 70% of biosolids are applied on pasture, rangeland, and crop producing land.
“Well, I heard it’s free, and that’s why y’all use it.” Well, as nice as free sounds, it is not free. The material is at no cost to us, but we pay a company to apply it. There are a couple companies in our area that apply biosolids with a manure spreader. When the material is slung out of the spreader, it is sort of wet, but it dries quickly and we are able to plow it under. We personally plow it under as soon as we can, not only to be neighborly by covering up the smell, but to also prevent nitrification.
“Well, what about water runoff into our water supply?“ Great question. Like any nutrient, it must be managed effectively, or you’re just “wasting it” and it runs off into our water supply and could affect our fish and drinking water. Most people think that the main concern is that it’s sewage runoff from fields, but it’s quite opposite, it’s organic matter runoff that needs to be managed. Soil tests are done to check fertility rates before application and after. Our particular company does not usually spread close to the edges of the fields, unless we sign a paper saying that it is ok. Remember that we are drinking and eating the same food and water that everyone else is.
“Well I don’t want poop on my food.” Well, that makes 2 of us! Biosolids are applied to unplanted ground. Meaning, there is no seed for future growth in the field, there is no actively growing plants, there are no fruit on any plants. There is no way for there to be poop on your food.
“Well, it stinks.” I know, but I have yet to find a manure that doesn’t, and we use turkey litter, it’s rough too. Us and most other farmers that use it, try really hard to plow it and mask the odor, we really do. We use it in our backyards (literally), we know what you’re going through. Yes, we may benefit from it, if mother nature allows, but that still doesn’t mean we like the smell. The odor itself, will not pose harm to human health or the environment (epa.gov).
One last thing I’d like to touch on. If this very valuable resource is not applied to land, it is typically sent to our fast filling landfills. This is a product that should not be wasted.
Questions? Feel free to send them my way! The more transparent we farmers are, the better we can all understand each other.