Expanding Farm Partnerships to Trial Human-Urine-Derived Fertilizer on New Crops

Project Overview

ONE20-375
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $28,187.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Rich Earth Institute
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Abraham Noe-Hays
Rich Earth Institute

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay, hemp
  • Fruits: figs
  • Additional Plants: ornamentals

Practices

  • Crop Production: application rate management, fertigation, fertilizers, greenhouses, high tunnels or hoop houses, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research

    Proposal abstract:

    Fertilizers made from human urine are a sustainable and abundant source of nitrogen and other agricultural nutrients. Previous field research has established their effectiveness for growing hay, while social research has revealed areas where farmers would like additional information before trying urine-derived fertilizers on their own farms. This research project combines two activities: 1) a collaborative demonstration of urine-derived fertilization on five  farms, growing hemp, hay, figs, cut flowers, and corn, and 2) a controlled fertigation experiment using urine-derived fertilizer and hard irrigation water, evaluating the ability of three types of drip irrigation emitter to resist clogging. 

    The project is a collaborative study, involving partner farmers in all the stages of planning and execution. The proposed research addresses needs and interests expressed by farmers interviewed in our previous SARE project, many of whom were open to urine fertilization, but wanted more concrete information on application methods and plant response for specific crops. The broad themes of this proposal, including the focus on drip fertigation, match the interests of the farmer partners. The details of the specific on-farm demonstration experiments will be determined by the farmers in order to best support their farming objectives.

    Outreach will include a farm field day during the growing season (August or September)  and a farm partner gathering in the winter to discuss results; a presentation describing the study for relevant farming conferences; publicity via Rich Earth’s communication platforms and international networks; and articles for publication in both peer reviewed journals and trade publications.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to demonstrate the effect of urine-derived fertilizer on the development and yield of a variety of crops, while testing application methods and fertilizer formulations chosen to meet plant needs while minimizing harmful nutrient migration into the wider environment.

    Objective 1: Develop fertilization plan for each crop, including urine-derived fertilizer type and application method. Conduct side-by-side demonstrations, comparing urine-derived fertilizer to typically-used fertilizer for each crop. Document farmer experiences and plant response.

    Objective 2: Conduct a controlled experiment testing the incidence of clogging when urine fertilizer is injected into drip fertigation systems fed with hard water. Test two injection methods and three emitter types, in an accelerated two-season laboratory simulation.

    Demonstrating the effect of urine fertilizer on a variety of crop types is essential to helping more farmers become familiar with and potentially adopt this practice. Testing drip fertigation using urine, to determine what conditions are necessary for successful operation, will make available an application method that is ideally matched to the characteristics of urine. Farmers will benefit from an increased ability to effectively utilize a new low-cost and sustainable source of nitrogen fertilizer.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.