NECC1010: Use of Residuals in Agriculture in the Northeast
Statement of Issues and JustificationOn behalf of faculty from participating universities, we are submitting this request for establishing a Multi-state Coordinating Committee. This group has successfully worked together under a Multi-state Research Committee structure for the past 5 years. (Reports and other information about the work of our committee can be seen at: http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/NERA/NEhome.html). At our annual meeting in July, 2004, the committee decided that it was important to continue to meet to facilitate our collaborations and the discussion of issues pertinent to agriculture in the Northeast. We decided that this purpose could be met effectively by establishing a coordinating committee. This decision was reaffirmed at the July 2005 final meeting of multi-state research committee.
Our research and extension activities provide important knowledge for decision-makers in the Northeast. These audiences include agricultural producers and their advisors as well as local and state governmental officials. These stakeholders are faced with decisions about the use of residuals in agriculture and unbiased, research-based information specific to the Northeast is critical to making wise decisions.
The actively participating land grant universities include: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Other active participants include faculty from William and Mary (VA) and U. Guelph (Ontario) and governmental representatives from Ontario.
Residual materials (wastes) from a number of sources including waste water treatment plants, papermills, livestock manures, and various industrial processes possess qualities that make them potentially useful soil amendments. To a large degree, most of these materials have traditionally been considered waste materials and dealt with accordingly (e.g., buried in landfills, dumped in the oceans). In part due to the environmental degradation resulting from such actions, plus the fact that these materials contain plant-available nutrients and organic matter useful in improving soil structure, recycling these materials through application to agricultural land is increasingly being viewed as desirable (US EPA, 1999). Simplistically, one might assume that these substances could be considered to be equivalent to commonly used fertilizers and applied to field sites accordingly. Yet, complications result from their potential content of inorganic (e.g., heavy metals), organic (e.g., surfactants, solvents), public health (e.g., viruses, other pathogens, endotoxins) contaminants, as well as nuisance issues (e.g., odors) (National Research Council, 2002; LaGuardia, et al., 2004). These materials also may have concentrations of nutrients that are not balanced in regard to plant needs (Brandt, et al., 2004).
Use of residuals on agricultural lands is increasing in the Northeastern U.S. These materials have been used to supplement agricultural phosphorus and nitrogen sources, to adjust soil pH, and to enhance soil structure and tilth. However, a variety of concerns have been raised that must be resolved to ensure the long-term utility of residuals, as well as the preservation of the limited resources of high quality agricultural soils, particularly under Northeast conditions. These concerns include questions of whether currently rules and practices are adequate to protect the quality of the soils characteristic of this region, to insure the safety of the crops produced thereon, to protect groundwater resources and to protect neighbor health and welfare (Harrison, et al., 1999; McBride, 1995).
Soils of the Northeast tend to be shallow and acidic, making them more sensitive to metal applications than are soils in the Midwest or Western U.S.(NEC-28, 1985). Furthermore, many crops crucial to Northeastern agriculture (e.g., leguminous forage crops and vegetables) are more sensitive to soil metal contamination than the relatively metal-insensitive crops (e.g., corn) for which most phyotoxicity data have been collected. Dairy is a predominant agricultural industry in many Northeastern states and the sensitivity of ruminant animals to some contaminants such as molybdenum is an important consideration (Harrison, et al., 2003; McBride and Hale, 2004). In addition to these agricultural production concerns, there are questions of potential degradation of groundwater quality (Richards, et al., 1998). Again this is a particular problem in the Northeastern region due to soil and groundwater conditions, its complex mosaic of high population centers and adjacent agricultural enterprises and the predominant use of private wells to supply water to rural residents. The proximity of people to agricultural lands in the Northeast also results in concerns about neighbor issues.
To address the issues cited above, a multi-institution multidisciplinary coordinating committee is proposed so that the productive collaboration of the terminating multi-state research project (NE 1001: Application of Sewage Biosolids to Agricultural Soils in the Northeast: Long-term Impacts and Beneficial Uses) can be continued. By providing such a mechanism, the research and extension efforts pertaining to the use of residuals in agriculture can be coordinated, saving resources and providing for synergy among the participating states.
Back to Top