Put the Right Biology in Charge for Better Lagoons

Every concentrated animal operation has to deal with animal waste. Manure pits and lagoons collect the waste and supposedly convert it into something that can be reused on fields. The problem is, they seldom work properly, so you have poorly composted waste, lagoons full of sediments, foul odors, lost nutrients, and toxic compounds that actually harm the ground and the plants they are supposed to nurture.

Manure pits and lagoons are anaerobic environments, and without biological management, the pathogenic organism are often predominant. These pathogens actually release large amounts of mineral emissions in the form of ammonia, phosphine gas, hydrogen sulfide, and others. When these emissions are volatized in the air, they create the bad smell we generally associate with manure treatment methods, and it carries a long way! As bad as the odors are, they aren’t the worst of it. The volatized emissions are actually carrying off essential nutrients that could otherwise be returned to your soils. In other words, the pathogenic organisms are wasting your nutrients.

On the other side of the equation, beneficial anaerobic microorganisms don’t waste these nutrients. Instead, they convert the N, P, K, C, H, O Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Ni, Na, Co, B, Mo, Si, Se, and many more trace minerals into an organic form which is within their own body structures and these nutrients are “held” there. These minerals are not soluble, so you can’t see them with the normal tests, but they are there and the nutrients will be made available to the plants when they need them. As a side benefit, these beneficial microbes actually digest and liquefy manure solids, without the unpleasant odors so many say are inevitable.

When Bio Minerals Technologies inoculates a lagoon or pit, we introduce large numbers of these beneficial anaerobic bacteria. With so much food available, the beneficial bacteria explode in numbers and quickly out-compete the pathogens, greatly reducing and even eliminating them. They quickly begin the aggressive breakdown of manure solids (anything heavy enough to settle to the bottom) and convert the solids into soluble organic form which is then converted into more microorganism bodies and held as “nutrient potential.” The manure solids are liquefied as they are digested by the microbes, thus eliminating the sediments in the lagoon and restoring the lagoon’s full capacity.

Manure is often sold based on the soluble NPK value. However, the testable NPK value only measures those minerals that are in free, water soluble form. This measurement actually misses much of the nutritive value that exists, because so many of the nutrients are tied up in organic matter solids and therefor an insoluble state.

If you run a traditional soluble mineral test when the right bacteria are in control, you will actually see the soluble numbers drop a little vs an untreated lagoon or pit. However, there are significantly more minerals and nutrients held within the good bacteria and very little of it is lost through volatized emissions. Our microorganisms also restructure the excess salts and convert them into non-soluble forms to reduce toxicity to the soils (a common problem with manure applications). As a side benefit, the lagoon or pit doesn’t smell nearly as bad, so your neighbors (and your family) can stop complaining.

Soluble isn’t always better, because excess soluble nutrients when applied to the soil, frequently leach out before the plants have a chance to use them. In the long run, biologically held nutrients are better than soluble nutrients because microorganisms do not leach. They remain in the soils, holding the nutrients for a more gradual release and keeping more nutrients available to the plants that need them.

With so much of the nutrient content tied up in the microorganisms, how are these nutrients delivered to the plants? In order to understand this process, you need to understand some basic microbiology. Bacteria are some of the smallest elements in the food chain. They are also the most nutrient dense, as defined by their carbon to nitrogen ration (5/1). When bacteria are consumed by predators, such as protozoa, the predators have a larger ratio (30/1). Each organism has to maintain its proper ratio balance, so excess nitrogen (and other minerals) is excreted by the protozoa. These excretions are generally in soluble form that the plants can then absorb and use.

Plants actually “cultivate” microbial colonies in their root systems by exuding sugars that the microbes feed upon. These colonies attract the predators, which consume the microbes, releasing the excess nutrients and minerals for the plants to eat. There are also some microorganisms that absorb minerals from the soil or air and exchange those minerals with the plant for the sugars the roots produce. There are other organisms that are symbiotic and actually live on or attach to the roots themselves. These organisms are fed by the roots and in turn, they get mineral nutrients from the air and soil, using their enzymes to convert them into soluble forms the plant can take in. The whole system works seamlessly together, and when it is balanced properly, the plants and the soil thrive. Plants can’t access the non-soluble minerals and nutrients in the soil, but the biology can and it converts them into a form the plants can use. If you would like a more detailed explanation, see our Understanding Soil Biology article.

All of this can happen only if the proper biology is present in the applied manure or compost. If the pathogens are in control of the manure, it is actually toxic to the plants rather than beneficial. If, on the other hand, the good bacteria are in control, the manure nourishes the plants through the biologically stored nutrients.

The anaerobic biology we use in lagoons and pits has approximately half of the population that is facultative in nature. That means the microbes can function as both anaerobes (without oxygen) and aerobes (with oxygen). So, in the lagoons and pits, these microbes function anaerobically, but when they are applied to the soils, they convert to aerobic operations and assist the beneficial soil microbe populations. The remaining anaerobes simply go dormant in the soil and wait until they are needed again for the next round of decomposition.

The same biological processes control the composting of manure solids, only composting is generally aerobic in nature. We still have to put the right biology into the manure in order to properly decompose and break down the plant fibers and solids, maintaining the nutrients and controlling the odors. It is the same process, just different sets of microbes. The result is a nutritious and valuable soil supplement that can be used on your own fields or sold to others for use in their gardens or fields. Instead of waste, you have value.

Would you like to recover the capacity and reduce the odors of your manure processing, while producing a valuable secondary fertilizer product? Call us today and we can show you how. You can also read about some of our successes here.

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