ISU Gets Big Grant to Study Buffers for Odor Control

Researchers awarded $440,000 to study vegetative odor buffers. Also, Iowa researchers say popular trees can help dispose of manure. Rod Swoboda

Published on: Jan 9, 2004

Researchers at Iowa State University have received a USDA grant totaling $440,000 to study the use of trees, shrubs and other perennial plants as buffers

to reduce odors around poultry and egg production facilities. The three-year grant also includes the University of Delaware and Pennsylvania State University.

"There is anecdotal evidence that shelter belts and vegetative buffers reduce odors when placed around poultry facilities. This will be the first comprehensive public study to look at how much benefit these buffers can provide," says John Tyndall, post-doctoral research associate in ISU's natural resource ecology & management department.

The study will include both field and laboratory studies and computer modeling to investigate the location and cost-effectiveness of buffers as well as the types of trees and plants that should be used. Joe Colletti, professor of natural resource ecology and management, says the study results will provide practical, science-based information to both large and small poultry producers.

A natural way to help solve odor problem

"This is a more natural way to solve a problem," says Colletti. "We don't see this as the only solution but it will add to the suite of choices or the number of options producers have to reduce odor."

This new project is an extension of an interdisciplinary USDA National Research Initiative funded program headed by Colletti and Tyndall and other researchers in the department at ISU. The researchers have been examining the bio-physical and socio-economic efficacy of vegetative environmental buffers in alleviating swine odor.

Colletti says the project has received positive feedback from individual poultry producers as well as the Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council. Researchers are planning for spring plantings of the vegetative buffers at two sites in Iowa and six locations in both Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Gene Takle and Ray Arritt, professors of agronomy and agriculture meteorology; Steve Hoff, professor of ag and biosystems engineering; and Jan Thompson, assistant professor of forest biology and urban forestry are co-investigators with Colletti and Tyndall, along with researchers from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Manure disposal--new use for poplar trees

Hybrid poplar trees have been used in Iowa to reduce air pollution from livestock manure lagoons, but some experts believe the fast-growing trees can also be used to help dispose of manure.

A 10-year project in Ames, concluded in the late 1990s, showed that poplar trees, when used in conjunction with other perennial plants, could absorb sludge from human waste applied to the surface of the soil, says Colletti.

Another field study conducted by ISU researchers in the Amana Colonies showed that poplar and silver maple trees could be used to dispose of cattle manure, notes Colletti. This was a featured exhibit as part of the Farm Progress Show, when the show was held at the Amanas several times during the past dozen or so years.

Researchers found that trees and other plants can absorb nutrients from the livestock waste. In addition, microbes from the sludge enhance soil quality. "The initial results were very encouraging," he says.

There is at least one drawback. That is, excess phosphorus from the waste can harm the soil and ground water. Also researchers face an additional hurdle. Funding for further research to develop this into a practical management practice has been hard to get, says Colletti.