The manurification of America

A perfect shitstorm: On some farms, animal manure can be a valuable asset, a way to improve the soil in the fields. But for today’s massive factory farms — and, increasingly, the nation’s air and waterways — manure is a huge liability, reports the Post’s David A. Fahrenthold. Decomposing manure from factory farms is the U.S.’s fastest growing source of methane, while the nitrogen it contains is partly responsible for creating 230 “dead zones” along the U.S. coast. (There were only 16 in the 1950s.) In the 40 years since the first Earth Day, the nation has made great strides in reducing emissions of the gases that cause acid rain and emissions from sewage treatment plants (reducing each by around 50%). But the nitrogen load from manure has increased by at least 60 percent in that same time. The increasing centralization of meat, milk, and eggs production concentrates the wastes, making their management far more difficult. In addition, while emissions from cars or sewage treatment plants were governed by strict regulations, limits on farm emissions have been slow to be set, and then relatively weak when finally established. That might be changing, as the EPA announced recently that reducing pollution from manure is a new priority. And some private interests are attempting to turn manure into revenue: Perdue has a plant in Delaware that converts waste from some of the 568 million chickens raised in the region into fertilizer pellets for sale to golf courses and others. (Washington Post)

3 Responsesto “The manurification of America”

  1. Have they made great strides towards reducing acid rain? Not that I can tell here. We still get intensely acidic rain here in New England that kills life in our ponds and lakes. It comes from the power plants and manufacturing in the mid-west according to the newspaper articles. Another newspaper article the other day said that it wasn’t farms that were the source of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution but lawns. They mentioned parking lots and driveways too as being a major pollution source. Of course, around here in Vermont we don’t have the big farms and processors. Either way, urbanization is causing concentration and that is the real cause of the problem.

  2. The article said that emissions of an acid rain agent (sulfur dioxide) had decreased significantly, not that acid rain had decreased. And so, things are getting worse less rapidly. According to a Canadian government website (Canada is also affected by Midwestern power plant emissions), further reductions in pollutant emissions are needed to prevent additional damage to ecosystems — “past predictions of the impact of proposed control strategies have been overly optimistic,” and lakes in some areas “have not responded to reductions in sulphate deposition as well as, or as rapidly as, those in less sensitive regions. In fact, some sensitive lakes continue to acidify. “

  3. JackieB says:

    Is there really a 60% increase in N from manure only?  Seems to me we’re ignoring the elephant in the room:  NH3 application as fertilizer.  I’d guess that NH3 contributes more to dead zones than manure application.  (I agree with Walter that much too little focus is put on ‘frivolous’ fertilizer and herbicide use; lawncare is a good example.)  It’s interesting that manure applied to farm fields is a net negative, but once they ‘re-package it’  as fertilizer pellets (using fossil fuels, I assume) and use it on golf courses, it’s something to be lauded.  At least the farms are producing food.