Agriculture: Nutrient Management and Fertilizer
- Fertilizers made from domestic septage and sewage sludge (biosolids)
- Manure as fertilizer
- Nutrient pollution
- Commercial fertilizer
- Recycling ammonia emissions as fertilizer
- Fertilizers made from wastes
Most fertilizers that are commonly used in agriculture contain the three basic plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Some fertilizers also contain certain "micronutrients," such as zinc and other metals, that are necessary for plant growth. Materials that are applied to the land primarily to enhance soil characteristics (rather than as plant food) are commonly referred to as soil amendments.
- virgin raw material
- composts and other organic matter
- wastes, such as sewage sludge and certain industrial wastes.
Overuse of fertilizers has resulted in contamination of surface water and groundwater.
Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. When treated and processed, these residuals can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth. Biosolids are treated sewage sludge. Biosolids are carefully treated and monitored and must be used in accordance with regulatory requirements.
- water quality
- pollution prevention
- sustainable agriculture.
- Biosolids Laws and Regulations
- Plain English Guide to the EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule
- A Guide to the Federal EPA Rule For Land Application of Domestic Septage to Non-Public Contact Sites
- Land Application of Sewage Sludge - A Guide for Land Appliers on the requirements of the federal standards for the use or disposal of sewage sludge, 40 CFR Part 503
- Biosolids -- Frequently Asked Questions
Agricultural producers can return manure and crop residues to the soil as fertilizers or soil conditioners on their own property unless prohibited by other State or local laws.
More information from other organizations
- USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) - Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP)
Sources and Solutions: Agriculture - Animal manure, excess fertilizer applied to crops and fields, and soil erosion make agriculture one of the largest sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the country.
Estimated Animal Agriculture Nitrogen and Phosphorus from Manure - Animal agriculture manure is a primary source of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface and groundwater. Manure runoff from cropland and pastures or discharging animal feeding operations and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) often reaches surface and groundwater systems through surface runoff or infiltration.
- implementing best management practices
- employing precision agriculture methods.
The USDA Agricultural Research Service has patented a new technology that can remove ammonia from livestock wastewater and recycle it as a fertilizer.
USDA Agricultural Research Service
- only a relatively small percentage of fertilizers is manufactured using industrial wastes as ingredients, and
- hazardous wastes are used as ingredients in only a small portion of waste-derived fertilizers.
EPA's longstanding policy encourages the beneficial reuse and recycling of industrial wastes. This includes hazardous wastes, when such wastes can be used as safe and effective substitutes for virgin raw materials. EPA is examining whether some fertilizers or soil conditioners contain potentially harmful containment levels. However, the Agency believes that some wastes can be used beneficially in fertilizers when properly manufactured and applied.
Concerns have been raised regarding the use of certain wastes in the manufacture of agricultural fertilizers and soil amendments, and the potential for ecological or human health risks, as well as crop damage, when such fertilizers are applied to farmlands.
For fertilizers that contain hazardous waste, EPA standards specify limits on the levels of heavy metals and other toxic compounds that may be contained in the fertilizer products. These concentration limits are based on the "best demonstrated available technology" for reducing the toxicity and mobility of the hazardous constituents. However, fertilizer made from one specific type of hazardous waste air pollution control dust generated during steel manufacturing is not subject to those concentration limits. This exemption is based on a 1988 finding by EPA that the composition of this particular waste is comparable to the materials that would otherwise be used to make this type of fertilizer, and that its typical use is not harmful. All other fertilizers that contain hazardous wastes are, however, subject to the contaminant concentration limits established by EPA.
In some States, the regulations on hazardous waste use in fertilizers may be more stringent than the Federal standards, since States can adopt regulations that are more stringent and/or broader in scope than the Federal regulations.
For food chain crops, farming can occur on land where hazardous constituents are applied as long as the agricultural producer receives a permit from the EPA Regional Administrator. Agricultural producers must demonstrate that there is no substantial risk to human health caused by the growth of such crops.
- manure and crop residues returned to the soil as fertilizers or soil conditioners, and
- solid or dissolved materials in irrigation return flows.
Telephone assistance from EPA
RCRA Hotline 800-424-9346 or TDD 800-553-7672.