Agricultural use of Biosolids
The York County Conservation District supports the beneficial use of biosolids or sewage sludge for application to agricultural land, when the following conditions are met:
1. The farm receiving the biosolids has a soil conservation plan meeting the requirements of the PA Code, Title 25. Chapter 102. Erosion Control, and the plan is fully implemented.
2. The biosolids are of good quality, determined by lab analysis, which meets the state and federal regulations for application to agricultural lands.
3. The site is suitable and under good management and meeting the permit requirements of the state and federal regulations. Good management includes frequent testing of the biosolids and the soil to which it is applied, as well as application of the biosolids to meet crop needs as determined by a nutrient management plan.
It is the opinion of the board that beneficial use is, at the present time, the best available alternative for the use of biosolids. It is recycling at the most basic level of human life and will improve soil organic matter and tilth, which will improve the long term sustainability and productivity of the soil, when the above conditions are met.
Biosolids Management and Conservation Planning
The proper management of the land application of biosolids requires many steps and procedures. They include proper treatment at the facility, testing and monitoring of the finished product, nutrient management calculations and proper application procedures. The final step in the process is to insure the biosolids stay where they were applied by having an implemented soil conservation or erosion control plan on the farm.
A conservation plan is a combination of Best Management Practices (BMP’s) that control soil loss to an allowable level (T), and meets Chapter 102 of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. The plan is individually tailored to each farm operation, taking into account such things as soil type, slope of the field, crop rotation and tillage practices. BMP’s such as contour farming or strips, grass waterways, diversions and terraces may also be used to control erosion. A properly implemented conservation plan not only controls soil erosion and runoff , it also maintains topsoil levels, improves soil quality and helps soil productivity.
The conservation plan is highly influenced by whether or not the biosolids product needs to be incorporated into the soil. The quality of the biosolids and the treatment processes used may require that the biosolids be incorporated. Most treatment plants have improved there processes so they have a higher quality product that does not require tilling into the soil. In many cases this gives the landowner more flexibility in what combination of BMP’s he can use to control soil erosion. This has allowed some farms that use exclusively no-till farming to apply biosolids as a fertilizer source and still have excellent erosion control.
The conservation plan must be totally implemented (all listed practices applied) on a field before biosolids may be applied. During the permit review process conducted by DEP a representative of the York County Conservation District reviews the conservation plan and determines the status of implementation. Only those fields that have the plan implemented can be used for application. Fields not implemented are documented and cannot be applied to until the plan is implemented and DEP is notified.
Many steps and procedures are followed to insure the land application of biosolids is monitored and managed effectively. The implemented conservation plan is the final piece of this puzzle and in many cases the most important in protecting water quality.
If you have questions or want further information about the land application and monitoring of biosolids in York County you can contact either Mark Flaharty at the District at 755-2966 ext.106 or Pat Pizza at the York County Solid Waste and Refuse Authority at 845-1066 .
Consider Biosolids as an Alternative Nutrient Source
Mark Flaharty, Ag Resource Conservationist
In these times of tight farm economics, farmers should consider any alternative that can improve your operations bottom line. One option is the use of biosolids as a nutrient source for your crops. Biosolids is defined as “a nutrient rich organic material produced from the stabilization of sewage sludge and residential septage that meet specific quality criteria and are suitable for land applications”.
Biosolids are an excellent source of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Also, many sewage plants use lime stabilization in their treatment processes so you have another source of lime materials. The nitrogen tends to be in an organic N form so it is released slowly (similar to dairy and beef manure), thereby having less chance for leaching and runoff losses. The addition of organic matter improves soil tilth, water holding capacity of the soil and soil structure.
The application rate is based on the nitrogen needs of the crop, adjusted for any starter or supplemental fertilizer. Phosphorus levels should be managed in case regulations are changed to phosphorus based planning. All application rates are based on actual test values of the biosolids and on soil test information. Also, land applicators must see that pH levels are maintained at proper levels.
The land application of biosolids is regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The treatment facilities and generators are permitted by DEP. To land apply biosolids the generator must meet stringent quality standards. The generators and land applicators receive training on proper land application procedures and on nutrient management planning before they can apply biosolids.
Before biosolids can be applied to a field or farm you must have an implemented conservation plan that meets Chapter 102 Pennsylvania Clean Stream Law regulations (a plan that meets allowable soil loss levels). The conservation plan should be developed and implemented before the farm is permitted. Early in the permitting and planning process, the farmer needs to find out if the biosolids need to be incorporated. The need for incorporation is dependent on the quality of the biosolids and permit requirements specific to the source. The conservation plan needs to reflect these tillage requirements. A farm that is doing full no-till may need to consider only biosolids that do not need incorporation or have their plan revised accordingly.
If you are interested in finding out the availability of biosolids, contact your local wastewater or sewage treatment plant or talk with other farmers in your county that are involved in the land application of biosolids. If you have questions about your conservation plan contact your County Conservation District or NRCS field office for assistance. For further information on the land application of biosolids contact your DEP regional office or local Conservation District office.
Biosolids Program Annual Report 2007
The York County Conservation District continues to maintain their role in reviewing and approving conservation plans developed for farms permitted to land apply biosolids. We also assist the DEP and the York County Solid Waste and Refuse Authority (YCSWRA) in monitoring permitted farms for conservation plan compliance, via a memorandum of understanding.
DEP provided a one year grant in 2006 for Districts to do site inspections on all permitted farms. The District accepted this delegation and partnered with the YCSWRA to perform the inspections. The YCSWRA completed all the required inspections as planned in the spring of 2007.
Program Status- York County (as of 11/20/07 )
Total DEP permitted sites 49
Total DEP permitted acres 4,273
Conservation Plans Reviewed/Approved 3
Total Acres Reviewed/Approved 244 ac.
Conservation District staff assisted existing permitted farms and potential new sites with conservation plan development and implementation. Plans were completed for 1 farm totaling 48 acres and two new farm plans are in the planning stage. Two existing permitted farms are having conservation plans updated to reflect changes in rotation and conversion to no-till farming. Three permitted farms completed implementation of conservation practices so the entire farm is now approved to be land applied.
We had one conservation plan compliance issue with a farm in Shrewsbury Township . Residue levels were not sufficient to meet the plan. Application on this field will be restricted until the plan is reviewed and residue levels are reestablished.