Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The smell of money

Manure. That’s the smell of money for farmers, but residents living next door sometimes don’t find it very pleasing.

The local zoning offices often receive complaints from folks living near farms who don’t want to deal with the smell of manure fertilizers. Since I cover local governments, I hear about this.

Farmers spread manure for a variety of reasons. Dairy farmers in particular need to get it out of the barn so they can go about their daily business of making sure Bossy donates her milk so you can have your cereal.

Government regulations governing milk production require frequent manure collection by dairy farmers.

The manure makes the fields flush with green. This natural fertilizer makes the topsoil better so grass can grow.

The cows then eat the grass. It’s a nice cycle.

Spreading manure saves money for farmers. Basically manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. According to one website, spreading animal waste saves a farmer about $45 an acre.

On a large farm, that’s quite a savings.

Environmental concerns do crop up with manure spreading, but a 2000 study found that most nonfarm neighbors are not worried about that. It’s the odors that spark the phone calls to county officials.

Zoning officials seldom receives calls about pollution, but people call every spring about odor.

Farmers do not fall under state law for spreading manure until their herd reaches a certain capacity – 300 head of livestock or 20,000 chickens, for example. Farmers also can, and many do, participate in the state's Best Management Practices, which has guidelines for manure spreading.

The state advocates putting manure down in the spring, not winter, so the ground can absorb the nutrients. Manure contains bacteria and chemicals that can enter the water supply, so it a spring application is desirable. That’s because manure that’s put down on frozen ground is more likely to run off instead of sinking into the soil.

Generally speaking, farmers try not to apply manure during bad weather.

Farmers have a lot to do when the weather warms; the fields and cows don’t take care of themselves. As the weather warms, farmers gear up for the season by applying herbicides and pesticides.

Herbicides might be used to kill an entire field so a new crop can be planted. Pesticides are necessary to keep the bugs away. Farmers are either licensed to apply these chemicals, or they hire someone to do it for them.

With longer days there are crops to cut, such as winter rye, which is used for feed and straw. Ground is plowed and reseeded or seeded with a no-till drill that puts the seed in the ground without turning over the dirt.

Farmers spread other things besides manure, including man-made fertilizers and lime. These items can emit odors, too, that nonfarm residents might not find pleasant.

Orchard growers are caring for their trees, pruning and spraying for bugs, depending on what the trees need. Cows are calving, chickens are laying eggs, roosters are crowing.

It’s a noisy and sometimes smelly world on a farm.

Ain't it grand?

(Note: a little different version of this appeared in The Fincastle Herald and online at ourvalley.org).


  1. Yes it is grand.
    I must be one of those people who actually like the smell of manure. I love the earthiness of it.
    Or maybe it just reminds me of my grandmother's farm in Italy.
    The scent ALWAYS brings back such fond memories.

    Peace to the cows and the chickens!

  2. I notice he has his head buried in the green stuff.

  3. Gewels - I like the smell of manure, too. I love the smells on a farm, even the ones I am allergic to!

    Collen - the cow was doing what it is best at!

  4. Cow manure has a nice, friendly smell. Now, chicken manure... not so much.


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