Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Didn’t Know I was a Post-Nutritional Recycler

During the pre-confinement era, hog houses had to be mucked out by hand, one pitchfork load at a time, and it was a Saturday morning ritual on our farm.  We’d prop a transistor radio on a dusty ledge, make sure our five-buckle boots were snug over our tennis shoes, and start slinging it. We’d talk, argue, yell top-40 lyrics, and think about how to get the smell out of our hair before the school dance that night.
A recent ag-essay refers to those who deal with manure as “post-nutritional recyclers.” (click HERE for the article) The writer is being facetious about politically correct statements, and his article asserts that manure is not waste, it’s a natural fertilizer that works smoothly with the cycle of farming sustainability. His light-hearted tone slides into scorn when he refers to those who fear manure pollution, and he seems to scoff at the outcry regarding water pollution. He believes farmers should be left to regulate their own manure management.
Most Midwest farms today recycle manure in “honey wagons,” huge caldrons on trucks or behind tractors. They pull the liquefied manure from pits next to the confinement “motels” that dot the countryside. Post-harvest is the best time to spread the nutrients, and last week I drove through a perfect storm of what some farmers call “the smell of money.”  Iowa’s Interstate 35, from Ames to Clear Lake, dissects the most heavily populated hog counties in the country, and on a warm October evening, the smell of “hog nutrients” hung in the still air like organic tear-gas.  The pits were getting emptied and the soil was getting enriched. Out-of-state drivers probably thought they’d entered a porcine twilight zone.
Some communities have tried to restrict hog confinement placement, and letters-to-the-editor reflect deep emotions concerning this issue.  Some claim regulations are overly-strict and the industry is vital to agricultural growth; others worry about health issues, decreased property values, and threats to groundwater. Although most seem to accept that hog farming is a vital industry, it’s the location that often raises a stink. You don’t need to be a “scratch-and-sniff” expert to know that manure smells different for the pig owners compared to the neighbors who live downwind. And water quality experts know that most farmers work hard to keep manure out of waterways, but fish kills and groundwater pollution in the Midwest indicate that some don’t do the right thing.
My brothers, cousins, and I generally worked without parental oversight on those barn-cleaning Saturday mornings. But occasionally, equipment would malfunction or sick pigs might need attention or maybe even an argument would break out. When the “nutrients hit the fan,” we needed some regulating. Manure is a natural part of animal agriculture production, and I guess the producers and the public need to figure out how much regulation the modern post-nutritional recyclers need.
CAST provides thoughtful, research-based publications (many for free download) on this topic and many other agriculture, science, and technology issues. Click HERE to search the list.
Dan Gogerty, November, 2010