Here in rural America, more than likely you’ve experienced a lovely drive down the road when all of a sudden, your senses are bombarded with the smell of some sort of manure, freshly spread out …
Here in rural America, more than likely you’ve experienced a lovely drive down the road when all of a sudden, your senses are bombarded with the smell of some sort of manure, freshly spread out on the fields.
Although perhaps offensive to the senses for a short period of time, the basis behind spreading manure (fresh or composted) is to keep the farm sustainable by utilizing the nutrients in the waste to supplement the fields and pastures for better forage or crop growth the following season.
Many rural dwellers are familiar with this usage, either having family members who farm or neighbors who do, but not everyone is familiar with the importance this waste “stench” plays in our food system. It’s quite important when discussing the sustainability of agricultural operations, as the farmer is trying to take advantage of recycling nutrients left over in the waste of livestock and using it to grow crops for food or to feed animals that will enter the food chain.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, farmers have been targeted for such sustainable practices due to some cases of bad management in the past or the larger culprit, which is an uneducated population speaking out without understanding the whole story.
Farmers don’t spread manure or fertilizer with the intent of harming the environment. In fact, it wouldn’t make any sense to do so as the farmers’ livelihood comes directly from the ground on which they work. If it’s destroyed or polluted, then there’s no gain, since the land would be useless and could not grow crops or produce forage to feed livestock.
It’s important to note that farmers have been practicing conservation efforts long before many other industries in order to preserve the natural resources we hold dear, and in today’s world are required to write down these steps and plans as a requirement to prove their good management practices. These nutrient management plans outline, with the education provided through many years of research, the best time to collect, spread, and hold manure to reduce any contamination of water sources or other environmentally sensitive areas. These plans also outline how much, how often, and in what areas of the farm is manure applied for proper nutrient balance.
There’s a lot of science that goes behind every action in applying manure, to make sure the correct balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is applied. There are also repercussions for not following these required plans, from dealing with contamination of their own water sources to too much of an imbalance of nutrients, which leads to poor plant growth, or to more serious lawful and costly repercussions. There’s no real benefit to not practicing good environmentally sustainable practices when spreading manure.
From a farmer’s perspective, that smell is one of hope for the future. It’s about providing a well-balanced soil bed for feeding our families and communities.
So the next time you find yourself smelling a farm, try not to think of it as an offense to your senses but rather the first step in the growth of your food.
[Editor’s note: Pennsylvania farmer Chelsea Hill will weigh in monthly on the issues facing farmers and the joys and struggles of the agricultural life.]
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