To many Michigan farmers, the application of biosolids ‑ the treated solids from wastewater treatment plants ‑ to farmland seems like a perfect solution to a number of challenges.
It can provide a high-quality, low-cost nutrient source for the farm, while also providing an environmentally friendly alternative to other disposal options such as incineration or landfilling.
The main challenge, according to Laura Campbell, manager of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Ag Ecology Department, is that nearby landowners and neighbors may take offense to the odor and/or have concerns about the implications to water quality.
As more Michigan communities consider the environmentally friendly concept of biosolids applications as a nutrient source to farm fields, she said those fears, while understandable, are not necessarily warranted.
“Biosolids are heavily regulated to protect human and environmental health from potential contamination by heavy metals, nutrients, and pathogens,” Campbell said. “While this helps protect farmers who receive biosolids on their fields, it also creates a large responsibility to follow those regulations and work with neighbors who have concerns about air and water quality protection.”
Campbell said the issue will likely be the subject of MFB’s annual policy development process, which starts at the county level with members drafting policy recommendations on issues that impact their day-to-day farming operations.
“Michigan Farm Bureau is working with the Michigan Water Environment Association, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and wastewater plant operators to develop a series of fact sheets and land application guidelines, which are available to the public, farmers, and local governments – all in the interest of separating facts from fears,” Campbell said. Those fact sheets and guidelines can be viewed here: https://www.mi-wea.org/biosolids_-_land_application.php.
According to Campbell, the group is also working proactively on guidelines to address emerging issues, such as recommendations to help fresh produce growers comply with Food Safety Modernization Act and food safety audit requirements, and guidance for developing agreements with neighboring farmers to protect their crops.
“Many other questions remain to be answered, such as how to separate the quickly advancing science of treating biosolids from the perception and fear of food companies and consumers, and how to prevent farms from being contaminated by newly identified pollutants,” Campbell said.
Even so, Campbell said the pros often outweigh the cons in the biosolids application debate. The Farm Bureau organization has provided additional background information and resources for county Farm Bureaus Policy Development Committees as they work to draft policy recommendations for consideration addressing key questions, including:
- Should state or federal regulations be changed to allow biosolids land application on more types of farms?
- How can federal and state agencies, universities, farmers and Farm Bureau communicate with food purchasers and consumers about safety regulations on biosolids treatment and application?
- What protection, indemnification or assistance do farmers need to protect them from liability and assist with cleanup if contamination issues are found from a wastewater treatment plant’s application?
Farmers interested in learning more about current related Farm Bureau Policy biosolids application in terms of food safety and nonpoint source pollution and watershed management concerns; or providing policy ideas to their local County Farm Bureau Policy Development Committee can do so by contacting their county Farm Bureau office to attend a local county Policy Development committee meeting and provide input.
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