Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Minimizing Mining Damage with Manure / October 26, 2012 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Photo: Plots showing varying vegetation growth after their soil was amended with different levels of beef cattle manure compost. Link to photo information
ARS research has found that amending damaged post-mining soil with very high levels of cow manure compost can reduce the amount of heavy metals such as lead and zinc available to run off and pollute nearby waterways as well improve the potential for growing vegetation. Click the image for more information about it.


For further reading

Minimizing Mining Damage with Manure

By Ann Perry
October 26, 2012

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research confirms that the time-tested practice of amending crop soils with manure also can help restore soils on damaged post-mining landscapes.

Thousands of acres of land with little or no vegetation, once mined for lead and zinc, remain throughout an area of southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma. The mining activities also left behind a legacy of lead-contaminated acidic soils, toxic smelter sites, and large quantities of mine tailings called "chat."

Soil scientist Paul White at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, La., was part of a team that studied whether adding beef manure compost to soil at post-mining sites would provide the carbon needed to support a healthy plant cover. The scientists also wanted to determine if the compost could reduce levels of lead and zinc that could contaminate runoff during heavy rain. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The team amended soils in experimental plots from the mine sites with 20 or 120 tons of beef manure compost per acre, and established a cover crop of switchgrass on all the plots. Then they took soil samples from the sites five times during the two-year study.

Two years after the study began, soils in the high-compost plots had significant increases in pH, plant-available phosphorus, total nitrogen, carbon and available water. High-compost amendments also increased microbial biomass, enzyme activity and nitrification potential, all of which create and support favorable conditions for plant establishment and growth.

High rates of compost also lowered lead and zinc availability by about 90 percent, which may reduce the amount of lead and zinc that could run off and pollute nearby waterways. Since high levels of bioavailable zinc inhibit plant growth, this binding action also helps to promote the establishment of a vegetative cover that minimizes runoff and soil erosion.

The team published its findings in Applied Soil Ecology in 2011.

Read more about this study in the October 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Last Modified: 10/25/2012
Footer Content Back to Top of Page