Letter: Manure Rules Good, But Not Good Enough

The efforts of the Village of Wellington to get a handle on the environmental impacts of equestrian waste are noted and appreciated. These efforts date back to the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mandating that Acme Basin B stop exporting nutrients, especially phosphorus into Water Conservation Area 1 and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

To me, one of the best parts of the best management practices (BMPs) that the village invoked was prohibiting the use of fertilizers with a middle number greater than 2 without first having a soil analysis performed to prove the need for enhanced phosphorus and delineating setbacks of fertilization from water bodies. This, together with equestrian BMPs, is going a long way to prevent nutrient pollution of the surface waters in the C-51 Basin.

Additionally, both Wellington and Loxahatchee Groves have initiated close oversight on certified manure-bedding haulers. This also is a great step toward handling the abuse of dumping, especially when it comes to nurseries and even unused lands accepting these materials in order to receive a tipping fee…

This is the third year that U.S. Sugar has accepted about 80 percent of the manure and bedding waste from the equestrian industry. On face value, this looks like a good thing. However, there are a few ancillary issues that must also be considered.

First, the good aspects. It is a destination for this waste, and it may cut down on the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer needed. Additionally, it may be adding organic matter to the soils, which are being depleted by oxidation, wash out and losses during cane burning. Looking at the fields as one drives through sugar country, one cannot help but notice a lot of white chunks in the otherwise black muck soils. That white is the underlying limestone that is being chopped up when the disk harrows till the soil. The sign “Welcome to Belle Glade, Her Soil is Her Fortune” may soon need to be changed to “Welcome to Belle Glade, Her Soil is Gone.”

Now, for the not so good aspects. The carbon footprint (carbon dioxide emissions) due to transporting these materials these large distances is tremendous. The carbon footprint could be very much lower if there was a bedding and manure recycling plant established in the Ag Reserve located but a few miles south of Wellington. However, just recently, the Board of County Commissioners rejected just such an application. This, I contend, would have been and still could be an excellent opportunity for the county to enter into a public-private partnership to support the huge equestrian industry which brings millions of dollars into our local economies. Bedding recycling would also cut down on the impact on tree harvesting elsewhere to produce new wood chip bedding.

As to adding organic matter to the soils in the Everglades Agricultural Area, the Sierra Club has initiated efforts to have big sugar in the EAA switch from burning the cane prior to harvesting to what is termed “green harvesting.” That is, the leaves and other materials besides the actual stalks are removed and left to rot in the field, adding organic matter back to the soil. South America, the Caribbean and Hawaii have gone or are going in that direction. But here, the cane is still burned, sending huge plumes of smoke, ash, black carbon, phosphorus and polyaromatic hydrocarbons into the air as pollution and health hazards.

Lastly, the extractability of soluble reactive phosphorus from manure worries me as to its eventual effects on the Everglades and the need for even more filtering marshes even in spite of the advances that the EAA has made in curtailing phosphorus export to the Glades.

Thus, keep the handling of equestrian waste as local as possible by establishing recycling of bedding and the conversion of the manure into pelletized soil amendment, much like Milorganite (www.milorganite.com). Further, stop cane burning and switch to green harvesting. We must start being much more environmentally friendly, for as the ancient American Indians have stated, “We did not inherit the land from our ancestors; we only borrow it from our children.”

Dr. Bill Louda, Loxahatchee Groves

Editor’s note: Dr. Louda is a research professor at Florida Atlantic University.