What Dr. Luke has to Say About the Use of Animal Waste

- Part II

Zhang Bao Lin was 45 years old.  He was a farmer in a rural area of China, which in the past had been known for its great production of vegetables.  The past decade has seen a slight drop of the produce amount.  The local agricultural experts told Zhang Bao Lin and his friends that the problem was overuse of the soil.  He and his farmer friends needed to replenish the soil.  They talked with the agricultural expert about fertilizers and other means.  However, they knew that fertilizers might be too expensive. They could use them but the increased crop yield might help not be enough to recover their expenses.  Zhang Bao Lin and his friends asked about animal waste, as they knew this was used.  The agricultural expert began to discuss the use of animal waste as fertilizer.

The agricultural expert told them that there are three main nutrients in animal waste.  Of the three major nutrients, nitrogen is of most concern for pollution potential and has the most complex cycle.

In manure, as excreted by the animal, some nitrogen is contained in complex protein molecules of digested forage and feed.  Nitrogen in this form is called organic nitrogen. The remaining fraction of the total nitrogen in manure is in the form of ammonia or ammonium nitrogen. After the animal voids manure, organic nitrogen is subject to conversion to ammonia nitrogen by bacteria; this process occurs to a significant degree in some types of manure storage.

Because ammonia nitrogen is the form most available to plants (after being quickly converted to nitrate by soil bacteria), it is important that the fraction of total nitrogen that is ammonia be known for good nitrogen management. Again a laboratory analysis is required for accuracy. Ammonia nitrogen can be lost to the atmosphere as a gas (volatilization) if the manure is surface applied without incorporation. The amount lost as a gas is difficult to predict because the process depends on many factors such as soil and atmospheric temperature, wind and humidity conditions at the time of spreading, application method, timing of application relative to optimum nitrogen uptake period (growing season) for the crop. The farmer cannot control many of these factors. Published values for plant-available ammonia nitrogen from surface-applied manure range from 20 to 80 percent. Actual plant-available nitrogen in any given case depends on the factors noted above. If manure is a significant part of a crop fertility program, the farmer must consider the possible need for supplemental application of commercial fertilizer nitrogen in the event that plant-available nitrogen is in the lower end of the range noted above.

Organic nitrogen must be converted to the ammonium form by soil bacteria before plants can use it. This process is called mineralization. The rate at which this conversion takes place depends on several factors such as manure type, soil moisture, temperature and pH. Published values suggest that 20 to 90 percent of organic nitrogen in manure may be converted to plant-available forms during the year in which it is applied.

The agricultural expert told Zhang Bao Lin and his friends that he needed to see another friend but would would return in a short period of time.  Zhang Bao Lin went away and was amazed at the complexity of just this small aspect of the farming.  How could things appear at the same time both simple and complex?  He discussed this with another farmer friend who was also at the same meeting with the agricultural expert.  His friend asked him to look with him at the following place in the Bible which said, 'Then Jesus said, 'a farmer went out to sow his seed, As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  He who has ears let him hear (Matthew 13.4-9).'

Zhang Bao Lin could certainly identify with the different types of soils and the different yield that could have.  His friend told him that we would probably never understand all of the complexity of the world.  All the farmers wanted was a good crop yield. Zhang Bao Lin's friend told him though that not only did they want a good crop yield but they all wanted happiness in life and to be free from worry.  Zhang Bao Lin's friend asked Zhang Bao Lin if he was happy?  Zhang Bao Lin told him sometimes he was but sometimes he wasn't.  He did have to admit that at times he was concerned if his farm would not produce enough crops to support his family.  His friend told him that he could and should be free from that worry.  How, Zhang Bao Lin asked.

 His friend went onto show him another place in the Bible where it gave another explanation of the story of the sower.  Jesus said to them, 'listen then to what the story of the sower means: When anyone hears the message of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  This is the seed sown along the path.  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky soil is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, it lasts only a short time.  When trouble and persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.  The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.  But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13.18-23).'

Zhang Bao Lin was not sure what all of this meant.  His friend explained that the seed represented the word of God or the message of the Bible.  God's word could be sown in a person's heart, however, like the soil the heart can have rocks, thorns and other things, which prevent us from having happy, productive lives.  Zhang Bao Lin asked his friend how he could develop a happy productive life.  He really wanted one.  He knew his farm was not doing well and could do worse and because of that he had a lot of worry and anxiety in his life. Zhang Bao Lin's friend showed him another place in the Bible about how we can have good success in all that he would do.  This certainly sounded good to Zhang Bao Lin.  The place in the Bible was written about 3500 years ago and said, 'do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.   Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1.8).'  Zhang Bao Lin's friend told him if he did everything written in this Bible that he would be successful and prosperous.  This was an amazing promise.  How could he get started in learning what the Bible said?

The agricultural expert had returned and so they finished the discussion.  The expert said he wanted to talk about two substances.  One called phosphorous and the other called potassium.  The expert started discussing phosphorus first.

Phosphorus in manure is present in both organic and inorganic forms. However, published values suggest that 75-80 percent of manure phosphorus is available to plants in the year that the manure is spread. Phosphorus is the least mobile of the three nutrients in soil and, under certain conditions of low soil pH, phosphorus buildup in the soil may be noted. Because of the tendency of phosphorus to remain attached to soil particles, leaching to groundwater is not usually considered a problem.

The primary environmental concern with phosphorus is the possibility of phosphorus-laden soil eroding into surface waters, or soluble phosphorus carried by runoff to surface waters. This can result in an undesirable condition called eutrophication, which is excessive plant growth in lakes, ponds or streams.

Next the agricultural expert talked about potassium.  Manure potassium is a soluble form and is considered to be immediately and completely available to plants when it is applied.  Potassium is moderately mobile in the soil. It can accumulate to levels detrimental to plant growth, although this condition is unusual.

Small amounts of potassium may leach to the groundwater in sandy soils, but it is generally not considered to be a groundwater pollutant.

Finally the agricultural expert talked about management practices to protect water quality

The most effect practice a farmer can implement to reduce nutrients from being loss from their fields is to reduce soil erosion.  This is because the applied soil nutrients are generally attached to the soil particles.  However, Nutrients can also be lost in solution.  Therefore, fields, which have a high potential for runoff water, should not receive waste as fertilizer.  Generally, fields with greater than 15% slopes should not receive waste.  It is also important not to apply waste to fields that are frozen or saturated.  These field conditions can lead to extreme runoff conditions without any infiltration.

The use of buffers is also an important management practice.  In order to protect water quality waste should not be applied within 100 meters of wells, caves, sinkholes, or losing streams.  Waste should also not be applied within 30 meters of a permanent flowing streams or 20 meters from intermittent streams. 

 The agricultural expert concluded by saying that there are many factors that are out of the control of the farmer when it comes to protecting water quality.  However, by having a better understanding of waste management and how the nutrients can move through soil erosion or in solution a farmer can implement.

Zhang Bao Lin and his friend both benefited from the time with the agricultural expert and both wanted to try and use more animal waste to make their crop yield more productive.  However, Zhang Bao Lin wanted to know how he could benefit from knowing more about the Bible.  His friend told him that first he must get right with God.  He showed to him in the Bible a place where it said, 'there is no one righteous, not even one.  There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3.11-12).'  Zhang Bao Lin's friend explained that this shows that no one even wants to do good.  He showed him another place, which said, 'for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).'  Not only have they sinned or gone against what God wants for them, they have fallen short of God.  They are separated from him and cannot even reach him. 

Zhang Bao Lin's friend went onto show him though that God acted even when we could not.  He showed Zhang Bao Lin another place in the Bible, which said, 'you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die, but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.6-8).'  This meant that even while we were unable to respond to God because of our sin Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross-to take our away our sins so that we would not have to bear them.  This showed God's great love for us. 

Zhang Bao Lin still did not understand what difference all of this made.  His friend showed him another place in the Bible, which said, 'for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6.23).' Our sin causes us death, both now towards God and eternally.  However, God freely gave us a gift through Jesus Christ and that is eternal life.  Our choice is an unhappy life now and eternal death or a happy life now and eternal life.  Zhang Bao Lin's friend asked him which one he wanted?  Zhang Bao Lin asked his friend how he could have this eternal life through Jesus Christ?

Zhang Bao Lin's friend told him that the Bible said, 'if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10.9).'  This meant that you must believe that Jesus Christ is the creator of the world and Lord of the universe and Lord of your life because he died on the Cross-for your sins.  You must also believe that after he died on the Cross-for your sins he was raised to new life to show his power over sin and death. If you believe these two things you will be saved for all eternity.

Zhang Bao Lin's friend asked him if he wanted to pray a prayer to gain new life now and for all eternity?  Zhang Bao Lin did and prayed the following prayer.  'Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and that I have done wrong against you. I confess my sins to you.  I believe that you died on the Cross-for me to take away my sins.  I believe that after you died you rose from the dead and now are alive.  I ask you to come into my life to save me from my sins.'  Zhang Bao Lin prayed this prayer and gained a new heart, which would receive God's word like fertile soil.  He also gained the promises of God's Word that God would bless him in what he did.  You too can have this eternal life through Jesus Christ and the same promise of blessing by praying the same prayer.