Natural Fertilizer Market Assessment Project

Project Overview

OW14-020
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2014: $21,552.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Nicole Cousino
Nicole Cousino

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn

Practices

  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: market study
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, public participation, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    TWO COMPLIMENTARY INQUIRIES

    This project looked at two inquiries – field tests and market evaluation of urine as a fertilizer. This report will present portions of each inquiry under the respective sections.

    We can establish safe, appropriate methods for capture and treatment of human urine to be used as fertilizer as occurs in other countries. The questions this project investigated are: will producers be willing to use this fertilizer and will consumers accept produce grown with such fertilization. This project employed a number of engagement strategies to compel a dialogue on human urine. The underlying objective was to move the discussion beyond the “ick” factor to a capture a meaningful consideration of urine as a valuable resource. Opinions were solicited from representatives along the full spectrum of our food system, from regulatory agencies to producers to distributors to consumers. While this was an introductory sampling, it provides a valuable insight into areas of support and concerns from those who can influence the advancement of this fertilizer.

    To better under urine’s opportunities and constraints from a grower’s perspective, an email invitation to take an online survey was sent to over 130 independently owned farms in Oregon and Washington. Thirty-two farmers responded. An additional 41 surveys were completed at Oregon State University’s 2015 Small Farms Conference. Sixty-eight percent (68%) said they are in need of a fast-acting nitrogen fertilizer seasonally, and 66% own the equipment to distribute liquid fertilizer. Because 68% sell direct to customers, consumer acceptance of produce fertilized with this resource rated high. But 64% responded yes to the question that if urine was treated according to a standardized method, should it be allowed as a fertilizer on certified organic crops.

    Consumer attitudes were both captured in online and in person surveys and through focus groups conducted by DHM Consulting. The results of both were quite similar, with positive support for the use of human urine as a fertilizer, even on crops for human consumption.

    To increase awareness and understanding, educational tools were produced, including a website, (www.TheGiveBackProject.com), an online animation, a brochure, and a PowerPoint presentation.

    The other significant component of this project was the collaboration with regional farms to test the efficacy of urine in comparison to organic fertilizers on an edible crop. Small scale observational trials, growing sweet corn, were conducted at four farms in Oregon this past summer. Overall, urine’s performance was comparable to chicken manure, feather meal, and soybean meal. Unexpected factors disrupted the results at two of the sites. But Big Leaf Farm’s and Dancing Roots Farm’s plots showed very promising results for the urine based fertilizer. The corn production on the urine fertilized plots equaled or exceeded production on the organic fertilizer plots.

    Introduction

    Everyday, every one of us produces and releases an estimated 1.5 quarts of urine. Typically, this is captured in a porcelain bowl and transported, through a series of pipes, to a wastewater facility to be treated with a very energy intensive process. The nitrogen in the urine contributes to 80% of the total nitrogen load at the facility, requiring some wastewater treatment plants to take additional steps to moderate this level prior to discharging the treated water into our waterways.

    An alternate path is to recognize urine as a resource. According to the World Health Organization, this universally available liquid’s composition of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium is very similar to commercial fertilizer, and these nutrients are readily available to plants. Urine also contains beneficial micronutrients, essential for plant growth, but usually missing in synthetic fertilizers. Essentially sterile if captured at the source with the use of urinals and urine diverting toilets, urine is a distinctly different resource than biosolids. In case of any contamination, full pathogen removal can be achieved with extended storage or pasteurization. Once capture, treatment, and application logistics are stabilized, human urine could provide a consistently priced fertility option.

    Health and safety concerns have guided our dependence on disposal based sanitation and increased our reliance on synthetic based fertilizers. But other countries are diverging from these energy intensive and environmentally damaging solutions. Sweden has over 20 communities using urine diverting toilets to direct urine to storage tanks so it can later be pumped and transported to neighboring farms. Other countries, such as Germany and Australia, have a few commercial buildings that have installed urine diverting toilets. Significant efforts are underway to educate farmers, in many countries, about the benefits of using urine as a fertilizer.

    Project objectives:

    1. Validate that urine is a viable fertilizer.
    2. Identify opportunities and constraints for the use of urine in agriculture.
    3. Engage Oregon producers in a dialogue about human-derived fertility.
    4. Evaluate consumer support for urine fertilized produce.


    OBJECTIVES/PERFORMANCE TARGETS – FIELD TESTS

    Field tests, conducted in many other countries, have verified the efficacy of urine as a fertilizer in comparison to chemical fertilizers. The objectives of conducting field tests in Oregon were to: demonstrate urine’s capabilities as a fertilizer to Oregon farmers and to compare urine to organic fertility options typically used by sustainable farmers in the Pacific Northwest.

    OBJECTIVES/PERFORMANCE TARGETS – MARKET EVALUATION

    Much of the research on urine based fertilizer has focused on analyzing its properties and performance. Given recent concerns regarding food safety and the use of manure based fertilizer, its critical to understand the cultural sensitivities likely to emerge with the promotion of this alternative fertilizer.

    Many people are familiar with the use of biosolids, and this “waste” has gained some acceptance. But the majority of those asked had never heard about the use of urine as a fertilizer.

    The objective of the market evaluation was to solicit opinions on this topic from representatives along the full spectrum of our food system, from regulatory agencies to producers to distributors to consumers. While this was an introductory sampling, it provides insight into areas of support and concerns of those who can influence the advancement of this 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.