Soil amendments are anything that is added to soil to enhance it – typically for agricultural needs – such as increasing nutrients or water retention. Fertilizing your lawn? That’s a soil amendment. Adding nutrients to your raised garden bed? That’s a soil amendment.
Animal waste makes excellent amendments and fertilizer, and after proper composting and treatment it is often applied to agricultural land. When I was young, I used to help my grandfather collect frozen cow patties so he could till them into his garden in the spring. This does not smell good. But its a part of farming.
In recent years there have been numerous lawsuits in rural Georgia and Alabama alleging that companies are dumping agricultural waste (typically anything left over from chicken processing) and calling it a “soil amendment.”
What is being dumped?
The debate rages, but here is a quote from a 2020 inspection report by the GA Dept of Agriculture about what is in the material being dumped.
A report from a Jan. 3, 2020 inspection by Jennifer Wren of the Georgia Department of Agriculture included photographs of the [property in Lexington, GA]. Wren was there with two representatives from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
She wrote that “piles of whitish material near the storage pond were visible from the road.”
“A strong odor seemed to emanate from the piles of whitish material, and red liquid pooled around the edges of the material,” wrote Wren. “Shortly after our arrival, a tanker truck (labeled as Leon Jones Feed & Grain, Inc.) delivered a load to the site.”
Wren said Smith told her the material she observed at the property was a “registered lime product from IsoNova, although he could not provide any kind of label or documentation.”
“I verified that IsoNova Technologies LLC (formerly known as American Dehydrated Foods, Inc.) does hold a current lime license with the Department (license # 36) with one registered product: A.D.F. Egg Shells,” wrote Wren. “Upon closer inspection of the material, there appeared to be feet, heads, and other body parts of very young chickens incorporated with the shells and feathers.”
About an hour later, a second load was delivered to the site by Leon Jones Feed & Grain, Inc., Trucking.
“The material delivered in this load was noticeably pinker in color than the other piles of eggshell mixture,” she wrote.
“A closer view shows the ‘pink’ colored objects to be chicken carcasses, which appeared to comprise most of the load,” wrote Wren. “Mr. Smith explained that he plans to spread this material on the surrounding fields as a liming agent and then plow it in, but he has had to wait on clear weather to do so.”
She wrote that Smith told her he “receives this material approximately five days a week, with around two to three loads on each of those five days.”
Wren wrote that “the composition of the loads is highly variable, with some piles appearing uniform and finely ground, while other mixtures were more heterogeneous.”
Wren and a fellow Department of Ag inspector returned to the Smith property on Jan. 7 “to determine if the eggshell material had been incorporated into the soil over the weekend” and found “no apparent changes to the stored material, although flocks of carrion birds could be seen feeding on the piles.” Smith was told “he must dispose of the carcasses in one of the permitted ways by Wednesday, January 15, 2020.”
Wren visited IsoNova’s Dahlonega site and met with plant manager Daniel Rice, who said the site is a “liquid effluent retention facility (LERF) that “receives hatchery waste/offal from 28 Georgia hatcheries.”Zach Mitcham. “Ag practice or waste disposal? Madison Co company sued over spreading practices in Oglethorpe, Wilkes counties.” Madison Journal Today, Dec 24, 2020.
In 2019 the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1057, which allowed local authorities to establish property protections for neighbors and nearby waterways. This allowed local communities to deal with how much waste could be dumped, and where. Now a new bill, Senate Bill 260, would severely limit local government’s powers to limit this dumping.
This sludge sounds gross, but why is this a science issue?
There is a lot of stuff in animal waste that hazardous to the health of humans, crops, trees, and the environment in general.
Chicken litter, aka chicken poop, contains the highest amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium of all animal waste. After proper treatment, this makes the waste an ideal fertilizer. If chicken litter is used as a fertilizer, studies have shown it can escape into the environment unless it is tilled into the soil. So even properly treated chicken waste can be a hazard unless applied correctly.
One chicken produces about 10 pounds of chicken litter monthly; thus, a house of 5000 birds will produce 50,000 pounds of manure a month.
Untreated waste contains high levels of nitrogen which can cause environmental problems in surrounding waterways and farmland. Waste may also contain E. coli, Stenotrophomonas, Cladosporium, Salmonella, and Acremonium and these pathogens can infect neighboring crops, water, and air. These pathogens can cause foodborne illnesses.
The litter can also contain diseases that can become airborne and spread. Studies suggest that airborne transmission of an avian flu strain was responsible for decimating poultry farms in 2015.
Nitrogen saturation (from excess in the litter) can cause reduced tree growth and even kill trees. Symptoms of too much nitrogen can be yellow, wilted, or brown leaves. Additionally, the trees pull other nutrients out of the ground to balance out the nitrogen, which can harm the surrounding forest vegetation. In one study in New England, excess nitrogen caused red pine mortality to reach 56% and the loss of all forest biomass.
What can I do about it?
Contact your Georgia General Assembly Legislator about this issue.
Learn how to be respectful and direct to your legislator here.