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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Research Project #431207

Research Project: Improvement of Soil Management Practices and Manure Treatment/Handling Systems of the Southern Coastal Plain

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

2020 Annual Report

1. Develop and test improved tillage and biomass management practices to enhance soil health and long-term agricultural productivity in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. 2. Develop manure treatment and handling systems that improve soil health and water quality while minimizing the emissions of greenhouse gases, odors and ammonia and the transport of phosphorus and pathogens. Subobjective 2a. Develop improved treatment systems and methods for ammonia and phosphorus recovery from liquid and solid wastes using gas-permeable membrane technology. Subobjective 2b. Develop improved biological treatment systems for liquid effluents and soils based on deammonification reaction using ARS patented bacterial anammox and high performance nitrifying sludge cultures. Subobjective 2c. Improve the ARS patented “Quick Wash” process for phosphorus recovery. Subobjective 2d. Assess treatment methods for their ability to reduce or eliminate pathogens and cell-free, microbially-derived DNA from agricultural waste streams. Subobjective 2e. Improved manure treatment and handling systems, and management strategies for minimizing emissions. Subobjective 2f. Assess the impact of manure treatment and handling systems on agricultural ecosystem services for soil, water, and air quality conservation and protection. 3. Develop beneficial uses of agricultural, industrial, and municipal byproducts, including manure. Subobjective 3a. Evaluate application of designer biochars to soils to increase crop yields while improving soil health, increasing carbon sequestration, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Subobjective 3b. Develop methods and guidelines to remediate mine soils using designer biochars. Subobjective 3c. Evaluate the agronomic value of byproducts produced from emerging manure and municipal waste treatment technologies.

New management practices and treatment technologies are required to help the nation’s crop and animal producers meet increasing economic and environmental challenges. These challenges include increasing soil productivity and health, as well as reducing unwanted atmospheric emissions, excessive nutrients, pathogens, and odors while concomitantly improving the affordability of animal waste treatment. To solve these challenges this research will pursue three complementary objectives. First, improved tillage and biomass management practices will be developed to enhance soil health and long-term agricultural productivity for Southeastern Coastal Plain soils. Long-term conservation tillage and crop management practices, including stover management and cover crops, will be evaluated to enhance soil productivity and limit the impact of climate change while enhancing nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Second, new manure treatment and handling technologies will be developed to improve soil health and water quality; to minimize emissions of greenhouse gases, odors, ammonia, and pathogens; and to maximize nutrient recovery. These technologies include: recovery of ammonia from manure using gas permeable membranes, enhanced biological nitrogen treatment via deammonification, biochar systems engineered to reduce odor, and new and improved methods of recovering phosphorus from manure. This research project will include covered anaerobic lagoons, thermal treatment, and acidification as technologies to reduce or destroy manure pathogens prior to land application. Third, we will develop beneficial uses for byproducts of manure treatments. This includes the use of biochars and hydrochars byproducts as soil amendments to improve physical and chemical properties, and as a fertilizer source for crop production. Research methods include laboratory, pilot-scale, and field-scale experiments using modern analytical equipment. Research products will advance the state of the science for more effective conservation and management of soil resources, innovative animal waste treatment technologies as environmentally-safe alternatives to traditional land application, and guidelines for beneficial byproduct utilization. Nationwide livestock producers, as well as Southeastern crop producers, will benefit from the findings of this research.

Progress Report
A field experiment continues on its 42nd year with the goal to assess long-term impacts of tillage (conservation vs. conventional) operations and crop management (row crop vs. cover crops) on carbon dioxide production, soil organic carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling (nitrogen, phosphorus), crop yields, biomass production, and soil microbial activity. Two publications in leading scientific journals included the analysis of data collected in this long-term field study. (Obj. 1). In conjunction with co-operator at the Agricultural Technological Institute of Castilla and Leon (Spain), experiments were conducted at pilot scale to investigate the recovery of ammonia from digestate effluent of an anaerobic digester using gas-permeable membranes. (Obj. 2a). Initiated a laboratory study on deammonification in soils using anammox and nitrifying bacteria to increase the capacity of spray-fields to remove ammonia from liquid manure applications. The study included two soils mixed with various inert media, which was previously inoculated with anammox bacteria. Preliminary studies were done to assess the proportion of anammox and nitrifiers that produces deammonification reaction in soils using swine wastewater. A related project was approved by Office of Technology Transfer Innovation Funds to cooperate with researcher at ARS Fayetteville, Arkansas, to further develop the technology with poultry waste and soil columns. (Obj 2b). Analyzed organic and inorganic components of liquid acid extracts for phosphorus recovery trials after self-acidification of manure solids. Research is ongoing for the recovery of P from the acid extracts. (Obj. 2c). A study of the efficacy of covered anaerobic lagoons to reduce pathogen loads was published. In addition, isolates collected from additional anaerobic swine lagoons from the same region were analyzed to determine antimicrobial resistance prevalence. The results were published in a leading scientific journal. Research is ongoing to test the potential for acidification of manure to reduce pathogens and antimicrobial resistance genes in swine waste. (Obj 2d). The effectiveness of a pilot-scale biochar odor removal system was evaluated in collaboration with the ARS Clay Center, Nebraska, in a research swine barn. Post-processing of field emission data collected from a swine farm with covered lagoons in North Carolina is being performed. (Obj. 2e). Watershed-scale scenarios of instream wetlands implementation for nitrate-N removal were modeled using SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool), and the results were published in a scientific journal. An additional study of soil nitrate-N dynamics under corn production in the Coastal Plain sandy soils was modeled using RZWQM and published in a scientific journal. Initiated data mining to model the impact of manure treatment systems on water quality using APEX. (Obj. 2f). Completed a 5-year field experiment to assess the impact of designer biochars with customized properties (i.e., higher pH, and more potassium and phosphorus content) to bolster corn yields, biomass production, water use efficiency, and basic soil fertility conditions in sandy soils. Results published in a scientific journal showed improvement in soil fertility conditions and water use efficiency, but there was no significant impact on corn grain or biomass yields. Results from soil organic carbon mineralization as carbon dioxide production along with soil microbial and enzymatic activity are being interpreted for a scientific journal publication. (Obj. 3a). A field experiment entered its 3rd year of evaluation of the impact of soil amendments on improving plant growth in mine spoil at the Formosa Mine site in Riddle, Oregon. Douglas Fir trees and native forbes and grasses were planted over a 1-hectare area. Spoil chemical, trees, forbes, and grass growth characteristics examined annually showed that plant growth greatly improved as result of installing a perimeter fence to minimize deer grazing. The field experiment continues for two more years and results will be published in a scientific journal, and EPA technical manual for remediating mine spoils. (Obj. 3a). Published two scientific articles to show that biochar and a compost blend added to soil containing phytotoxic heavy metals from the Tri-State Mine were capable of reducing their phytotoxic impact on corn and switchgrass growth. Statistical analyses showed a significant relationship between application rate and biochar pH values with concentrations of extractable heavy metals. This relationship highlights the importance of applying biochars with specific characteristics to reduce phytotoxic effects of heavy metals in soils. (Obj. 3b). Completed greenhouse study conducted to evaluate soil and plant response to selected raw wastes and quick wash treated byproducts (low-phosphorus swine manure, poultry litter, dairy manure and biosolids) applied at four nitrogen rates (0, 50, 100, and 200 kg/ha). One journal scientific article was published on nitrogen mineralization in a sandy soil amended with treated low-phosphorus broiler litter. (Obj. 3c). A U.S. Patent (No 10,70,937 B2, July 15, 2020) was awarded for a new biorefinery process developed by ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, that recovers phosphorus, proteins, amino acids and leftover solids from manures using fruit wastes.

1. Conservation tillage rebuilds surface soil organic carbon and nitrogen contents. Conservation tillage is an effective management strategy to rebuild soil organic carbon and total nitrogen levels. However, there are few long-term studies available to quantify either the rate of change or measurable benefits. ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, created a long-term tillage and crop management experiment using sandy soils. Topsoil samples were collected annually over 37 years under conservation and conventional tillage, and organic carbon and total nitrogen contents were measured. Topsoil under conservation tillage had a significant increase of 23 and 16% (24.7 and 2.3 Mg/ha) of organic carbon and total nitrogen contents, respectively, compared to topsoil values under conventional tillage (20.0 and 2.0 Mg/ha). An additional significant finding was that the soils under both tillage systems have reached their maximum capacity to store organic carbon. These unique results obtained over nearly four decades of field research will help landowners and greenhouse gas technical assistance providers to determine the climate value and amount of carbon credits from implementing conservation tillage practices under new USDA carbon credit programs.

2. Development of an agriculturally focused new collection of E. coli. Escherichia coli is one of the bacteria most commonly isolated from both humans and animals. Although most E. coli found in all phases of animal production are harmless, the organism can serve as a reservoir for antibiotic resistances that may be transferred to animal or human pathogens. This antibiotic resistance is a significant concern for the health of producers, their animals, and the public at large. Most collections focus on human health but very few E. coli collections represent the genetic variability and virulence of those affecting United States’ food animal production. Therefore, ARS researchers in Florence, South Carolina, assembled a publicly available collection (AgEc) that covers the four major animal production commodities – beef, dairy, poultry, and swine. This important development was the result of a collaborative effort of ARS researchers from nine research units and covered 12 states. The collection includes 300 isolates of E. coli. ARS researchers tested the collection for resistance genes to two common antibiotics – tetracycline and sulfonamide. They found 131 E. coli isolates with resistance genes for tetracycline, 41 isolates with resistance genes to sulfonamide, and a considerable overlap between the 2 antibiotic-resistant gene groups. Further analysis of antibiotic resistance gene patterns revealed significant differences along commodity and geographical lines. This effort – and its outcome (AgEc) – provides a new publicly available database useful to producers, as well as food- and animal- inspection communities about the types and distribution of E. coli antibiotic resistance in animal production farms.

Review Publications
Olszyk, D., Shiroyama, T., Novak, J.M., Cantrell, K., Sigua, G.C., Watts, D.W., Johnson, M.G. 2020. Biochar affects essential elements of carrot taproots and lettuce leaves. Horticultural Science. 55(2):261-271.
Sanchez-Hernandez, J.C., Capowiez, Y., Ro, K.S. 2020. Potential use of earthworms to enhance decaying of biodegradable plastics. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. 8(11):4292-4316. Available:
Novak, J.M., Watts, D.W., Bauer, P.J., Karlen, D.L., Hunt, P.G., Mishra, U. 2020. Loamy sand soil approaches organic carbon saturation after 37 years of conservation tillage. Agronomy Journal. 112:3152-6162.
Sigua, G.C., Novak, J.M., Watts, D.W., Myers Jr, W.T., Ducey, T.F., Stone, K.C. 2020. Urease activity and nitrogen dynamics in highly weathered soils with designer biochars under corn cultivation. Biochar Journal.
Ro, K.S., Dietenberger, M.A., Libra, J.A., Proeschel, R., Atiyeh, H.K., Sahoo, K., Park, W.J. 2019. Production of ethanol from livestock, agricultural, and forest residuals: an economic feasibility study. Environments [MDPI]. 6(8):97.
Ye, R., Parajuli, B., Ducey, T.F., Novak, J.M., Bauer, P.J., Szogi, A.A. 2020. Cover cropping increased phosphorus stocks in surface sandy Ultisols under long-term conservation and conventional tillage. Agronomy Journal. 112(4):3163-3173.
Ducey, T.F., Durso, L.M., Ibekwe, A.M., Dungan, R.S., Jackson, C.R., Frye, J.G., Castleberry, B., Rashash, D.M., Rothrock Jr, M.J., Boykin, D.L., Whitehead, T.R., Ramos, Z.D., McManus, M.N., Cook, K.L. 2020. A newly developed Escherichia coli isolate panel from a cross section of U.S. animal production systems reveals geographic and commodity-based differences in antibiotic resistance gene carriage. Journal of Hazardous Materials. 382.
Ducey, T.F., Rashash, D., Szogi, A.A. 2019. Differences in microbial communities and pathogen survival between a covered and uncovered anaerobic lagoon. Environments. 6(10):109.
Szogi, A.A., Shumaker, P.D., Ro, K.S., Sigua, G.C. 2019. Nitrogen mineralization in a sandy soil amended with treated low-phosphorus broiler litter. Environments [MDPI]. 6(8):96.
Sohoulande Djebou, D.C., Szogi, A.A., Stone, K.C., Novak, J.M. 2020. Watershed scale nitrate-N abatement of instream wetlands: An appraisal using the soil and water assessment tool. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 36(3):387-397.
Vanotti, M.B., Garcia-Gonzalez, M.C., Szogi, A.A., Harrison, J.H., Smith, W.B., Moral, R. 2020. Removing and recovering nitrogen and phosphorus from animal manure. In: Waldrip, H.M., Pagliari, P.H., He, Z., editors. Animal Manure: Production, Characteristics, Environmental Concerns, and Management. p. 275-321.American Society of Agronomy Special Publication.
Sohoulande Djebou, D.C., Ma, L., Szogi, A.A., Sigua, G.C., Stone, K.C., Malone, R.W. 2020. Evaluating nitrogen management for corn production with supplemental irrigation on sandy soils of the Southeastern Coastal Plain region of the United States. Transactions of the ASABE. 63(3):731-740.
Vanotti, M.B., Garcia-Gonzalez, M.C., Molinuevo-Salces, B., Riano, B. 2019. New processes for nutrient recovery from wastes. Lausanne: Frontiers Media SA. 601 p. ISBN 1664-8714; ISBN 978-2-88963-219-0.
Ro, K.S., Szogi, A.A., Sigua, G.C. 2020. Innovative animal manure management for environmental protection, improved soil fertility and crop production. Environments. Switzerland: MDI Books. 164 p.