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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SOIL APPLICATION OF AGRICULTURAL WASTE TO IMPROVE CROP PRODUCTION SYSTEMS AND ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

Location: National Soil Dynamics Laboratory

2006 Annual Report


1.What major problem or issue is being resolved and how are you resolving it (summarize project aims and objectives)? How serious is the problem? Why does it matter?
This project is aligned with the NP 206 Manure and Byproduct Utilization National Program. The primary method for disposal of agricultural waste products is application to soil, but management practices for these waste products have a major effect on soil productivity by impacting soil chemical, physical, and microbiological characteristics. The quality of water that flows or drains from soil is also affected by waste management. Because excessive repeated application of manures to agricultural land can potentially lead to soil nutrient imbalances, there is an immediate need to develop waste management systems that preserve and improve the soil resource while providing for environmental quality. The objectives of this project are to:.
1)develop soil phosphorus loading capabilities, following application of animal manure, for soils of the southeastern United States with differing chemical and physical characteristics;.
2)determine the impact of long-term application of poultry litter and other organic waste on soil quality in the southeastern United States;.
3)develop best management practices for manure application to row crops (corn and cotton) that maximize production while minimizing offsite environmental impacts in the southeastern United States;.
4) develop improved knowledge of waste management impacts on manure-derived nutrient interactions (phosphorus solubility and nitrogen mineralization) at the soil surface; and.
5)develop and assess performance of equipment for applying poultry litter in a shallow subsurface bands in pastures and row crops.

Poor fertilizer application practices (both inorganic and organic) can lead to nutrient loss from agricultural land by runoff and leaching. The greatest potential for non-point P contribution to surface waters usually occurs in watersheds with intensive animal production. Non-point source pollution from agriculture has been identified as the leading source of water quality reduction by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), with estimates that agriculture causes the degradation of 60% of river miles, 50% of lake acres, and 34% of estuary acres. These non-point source nutrient losses can contribute to environmental degradation, eutrophication of surface waters, and possible human health risks. For example, massive algal blooms in surface waters from excess nutrients can lead to summer fish kills and unpalatable drinking water, while human health concerns arise from direct contact with blooms of toxic dinoflagellate algae (Pfiesteria piscicidia), and from the formation of carcinogenic trihalomethanes during water chlorination. In addition, a large (20,000 km2) hypoxic area (low dissolved oxygen) in the Gulf of Mexico has been attributed to pollution from nutrients.

Livestock production is the leading agriculture industry in the state of Alabama, with over 2.7 billion dollars in cash receipts in 2003. Broiler production alone accounted for over 40% of the state's agriculture cash receipts (1.84 billion dollars) in 2003, but also produced approximately 1.4 million tons of litter in that year. Manure collected from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) has traditionally been applied to fields near the operation because this is a practical means of both improving soil physical conditions and providing plant nutrients for crop and pasture production. However, long-term manure application to soils at rates exceeding plant uptake can result in elevated soil P levels and directly influence the amount of P found in runoff.


2.List by year the currently approved milestones (indicators of research progress)
Year 1 (FY 2006)

Study of the potential benefit of amendments to reduce P runoff losses will be completed.

Establish new treatments for long-term manure application study.

Year 2 (FY 2007)

Study of long-term effects on soil quality parameters from first 10 years of manure application will be completed.

Study of the soil test P and runoff P in calcareous soils rainfall simulation will be completed.

Study of soil quality and plant establishment on Army training grounds will be completed.

Develop a four-trench poultry litter applicator implement in conjunction with the industry partner and evaluate performance of the applicator through field experiments.

Year 3 (FY 2008)

Study of the manure N mineralization will be completed.

Year 4 (FY 2009)

Study of field variability impact on soil P chemistry will be completed.

Develop an eight-trench poultry litter applicator implement and bulk litter hopper jointly with the industry partner and evaluate performance of the system through cooperative field experiments.

Year 5 (FY 2010)

Study of long-term effects on soil quality parameters after 5 years of altered treatment will be completed.

Use the single-trench poultry litter applicator implement in cooperative research projects with ARS units from Mississippi State, MS; Bowling Green, KY; and Booneville, AR.


4a.List the single most significant research accomplishment during FY 2006.
A large amount of manure is generated by broiler production in the U.S., but optimal use of this nutrient-rich manure is limited because field equipment and techniques have not been fully developed. Because of the growing environmental concern regarding organic waste disposal, field and laboratory studies were established to develop improved methods to utilize waste products for soil and crop benefits while minimizing environmental degradation. A one-row, tractor-drawn, broiler litter applicator has been designed and constructed at the USDA-ARS, National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, AL, for applying manure in row crop canopies and in shallow trenches in pastures. This equipment was used in field experiments to determine impacts on runoff water quality, crop response, and soil nutrients. In addition, we have initiated a series of field and greenhouse rainfall simulation studies to evaluate some P index criteria in cultivated agriculture as related to runoff nutrient losses, and to evaluate the potential benefit of chemical amendments to manure and soil on reducing P losses; as well as collecting soil samples from long term manure application and tillage system studies. Results indicate that a reduction in nutrient losses could be achieved with manure incorporation. Also, the addition of chemical amendments may greatly reduce the losses of P from manure applied to grass fields. This accomplishment is aligned with the Manure and Byproduct Utilization National Program (NP206), nutrient management component.


4b.List other significant research accomplishment(s), if any.
None.


4c.List significant activities that support special target populations.
None.


4d.Progress report.
In research conducted under an agreement between ARS and the US Army Corps of Engineers. It was found that costs to the US Army for handling, management, and disposal of non-hazardous solid waste are significant and are expected to increase further over the next 10 years. The Army generated 2.7 million tons of solid waste in FY 97 at a total disposal cost of $116M, which represents 2.5% of the total amount spent to operate and maintain all Army facilities. Of the 2.7 million tons generated, only 94,000 tons were recycled or reused to reduce disposal costs. One particularly exciting process from an Army Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) perspective involves a thermodynamic breaking of the molecular bonds of the organic, nonmetallic materials found in common household garbage. When hydrolysis is complete, the end product is an "aggregate cellulose pulp" that may be useful as a soil amendment. The US Army often has large areas that have been damaged due to extensive army training. Damaged training lands in need of rehabilitation often lack sufficient topsoil, organic matter, and nutrients necessary for successful revegetation. Overcoming these limitations frequently requires removing the physical and chemical constraints to plant establishment and growth. The objectives of these projects were to evaluate the potential of using the cellulose pulp as a soil amendment on these damaged training grounds. Studies were initiated at Fort Campbell, KY, and Fort Benning, GA, to evaluate the end product as a soil amendment for improving soil quality, plant growth, and revegetation success on training lands. Results indicate that the "aggregate cellulose pulp" has been extremely beneficial in revegetating the damaged army training grounds.


5.Describe the major accomplishments to date and their predicted or actual impact.
Because of this growing environmental concern regarding organic waste disposal, field and laboratory studies were established to develop improved methods to utilize waste products for soil and crop benefits while minimizing environmental degradation. We have initiated a series of field and greenhouse rainfall simulation studies to evaluate some P index criteria in cultivated agriculture as related to runoff nutrient losses, and to evaluate the potential benefit of chemical amendments to manure and soil on reducing P losses; as well as collecting soil samples from long term manure application and tillage system studies. Water and soil samples were collected for analysis from these studies. Preliminary results indicate that a reduction in nutrient losses could be achieved with manure incorporation, but increased soil slope did not impact the level of runoff nutrient losses. Also, the addition of chemical amendments of iron sulfate may greatly reduce the losses of P from manure applied to grass fields.

A one-row applicator for applying broiler litter in a shallow trench in soil was developed. The applicator is expected to be extremely useful in applying broiler litter in row crops and pastures, thereby allowing the nutrient-rich litter to be used beneficially on more crop land and pasture land while minimizing the potential for nutrients in the litter to adversely affect water quality.

This accomplishment is aligned with the Manure and Byproduct Utilization National Program (NP206), nutrient management component.


6.What science and/or technologies have been transferred and to whom? When is the science and/or technology likely to become available to the end-user (industry, farmer, other scientists)? What are the constraints, if known, to the adoption and durability of the technology products?
Working with a local farmer, a device called the "Forward Residue Mover" was developed for use on no-till planters to help prevent standing residue from clogging the planting mechanism. Information has been distributed to individuals as requested. (ARS patent was not pursued because it was deemed that the patent would not be defendable from patent infringement.)

A farm-scale, eight-row, broiler litter applicator is likely to be available to farmers within the next four years. Data sets and interpretation have been provided to researchers in the public and private sectors. Descriptions and implications of our research projects have been provided to various individuals and groups visiting the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory. Presentations of research findings have been made to various groups.


7.List your most important publications in the popular press and presentations to organizations and articles written about your work. (NOTE: List your peer reviewed publications below).
Information was provided to ARS Information Staff on cooperate work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, on municipal waste management. The waste management research was highlighted in an ARS news release and in an article entitled "From Trash To Grass - Revegetating Army Training Grounds" in the July, 2004 issue of USDA-ARS's magazine, Agricultural Research.

An article appeared in the magazine Ag Professional, October 2003, p. 18-22. The article was a rewrite in laymen terms of a scientific article entitled, "Relationship of soil test phosphorus to runoff phosphorus in calcareous soils" by Torbert, H.A., T.C. Daniel, J.L. Lemunyon, and R.M. Jones. The article was also converted into a test which could be taken by the magazine's readers for continuing educational unit (CEU) credit.

Waste management research was highlighted in an article entitled, "Beating MSW into a soil-Improving Pulp". BioCycle p. 6-7 August 2004.

A presentation was given at the Southern Extension Research Activity 17, Information Exchange Group (SERA-IEG 17) workshops on "Impact of winter poultry litter manure application ban on reducing nutrient losses in Alabama,", Banff, Alberta, Canada July 27-29, 2005.

Invited to participate in a team organization meeting to identify goals for a Alabama Legislature funded initiative for Auburn University that is titled, "Agricultural Systems and the Environment: Products and Jobs from Poultry Waste", August 5, 2005.

The article, "Harmel, R.D., H.A. Torbert, B.E. Haggard, R. Haney, and M. Dozier. 2004. Water Quality Impacts of Converting to a Poultry Litter Fertilization Strategy." J. of Environ. Qual. 33:2229-2242, was selected for use in the ASA-CSA-SSSA technology Transfer Program. The article, "Busby, R., D.L. Gebhart, and H.A. Torbert. 2006. Effects of an uncomposted municipal waste processing byproduct on prairie grass establishment." Agron. J. 98(4):1073-1080, was selected for use in the ASA-CSA-SSSA technology Transfer Program.


Review Publications
Busby, R.R., Gebhart, L., Torbert III, H.A. 2006. Effects of an uncomposted municipal waste processing by-product on prairie grass establishment. Agronomy Journal. 98:1073-1080.

Brauer, D.K., Aiken, G.E., Pote, D.H., Livingston, S.J., Norton, L.D., Way, T.R., Edwards Jr, J.H. 2005. Amendment effects on soil test P after long-term applications of animal manures. Journal of Environmental Quality. 34:1682-1686.

Horn, R., Way, T.R., Rostek, J. 2003. Effect of repeated tractor wheeling on stress/strain properties and consequences on physical properties in structured arable soils. International Journal of Soil and Tillage Research. 73:101-106.

Armstrong, S.D., Tewolde, H., Way, T.R., Rowe, D.E., Sistani, K.R., Taylor, R.W. 2005. Subsurface band and surface broadcast application of poultry litter: effect on soil nitrogen spatial distribution. Mississippi Water Resources Research Conference Proceedings CD-ROM

Torbert III, H.A. 2006. Cost assessment of standard soil sampling. In: Wielopolski, L., editor. Proceedings of Emerging Modalities for Soil Carbon Analysis: Sampling Statistics and Economics Workshop, January 19-20, 2006, Upton, New York. BNL-75762-2006 formal Report 29. p. 57-59.

Watts, D.B., Torbert III, H.A., Prior, S.A., Balkcom, K.S. 2006. Tillage affects on n mineralization and losses of winter applied manure. In: Schwartz, R. C., Baumhardt, R.L., and Bell, J.M., editors. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Southern Conservation Systems Conference. Improving Conservation Technologies to Compete for Global Resources and Markets. June 26-28, 2006, Bushland, Texas. p. 196-204.

Torbert III, H.A., Gerik, T.J., Harman, W.L., Williams, J.R. 2005. Impact of winter poultry litter manure application ban on reducing nutrient losses in alabama [abstract]. Agronomy Abstracts, ASA. CDROM.

Watts, D.B., Torbert III, H.A., Prior, S.A. 2005. Carbon and nitrogen mineralization of soil under long-term tillage and manure application [abstract]. American Society of Agronomy. 2005 CDROM

Torbert III, H.A., Busby, R., Gebhart, D., Potter, K.N. 2006. Evaluation of a non-composted organic waste byproduct on soil restoration [abstract]. Agronomy Abstracts, ASA. CDROM.

Mitchell, C.C., Torbert III, H.A., Tyson, T.W. 2006. Temporary storage of poultry broiler litter [abstract]. Agronomy Abstracts, ASA. CDROM.

Busby, R., Gebhart, D.L., Torbert III, H.A. 2006. Vegetation restoration using undecomposed organic waste [abstract]. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts. CDROM.

Griffin, T.S., Honeycutt, C.W., Albrecht, S.L., Hubbard, R.K., Powell, J.M., Sistani, K.R., Torbert III, H.A., Wienhold, B.J., Woodbury, B.L. 2005. Standardizing aerobic incubation methods: is it possible?. American Society of Agronomy Abstracts. ON CD

Boyer, C.R., Fain, G.B., Gilliam, C.H., Torbert III, H.A., Gallagher, T.V., Sibley, J.L. 2006. Evaluation of freshly chipped pine tree substrate for container-grown lantana camera. HortScience. 41(4):1027.

Last Modified: 9/1/2014
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