LEXINGTON - A pilot program at Illinois State University could be good for the environment - and for your sense of smell.
Educators at the ISU Research Farm will study how to eliminate odor from hog manure and fertilize crops in an eco-friendly way. Contractors should finish installing an underground system at the university's farm Tuesday, and the farm should be on its way to controlling field drainage in a couple of weeks, said Robert Meiners, presi-dent of Agrem Marketing LLC in Colfax and creator of the patented sub-irrigation system.
It's the first time the sub-irrigation system has been applied to the animal industry.
"ISU is more or less the leader in this right now," Meiners said.
The pilot project, on 18 acres of soybeans, will allow researchers to test another method to remove animal waste and to fertilize crops in a way that improves air quality, cuts back on chemical run-off and produces better yields.
Tiles placed two feet underground will carry rain water to a reservoir, which will help drain fields quicker and more efficiently. The system will reduce the run-off of fertilizer nitrates and phosphates, an environmental benefit because the chemicals won't pollute streams or rivers, said John Feit, with Agrem marketing.
"It's very eco-friendly," said Rob Rhykerd, an associate professor at Illinois State and co-investigator of the research project along with ISU professor Paul Walker.
Then, if fields are too dry, liquid hog waste from a 750,000-gallon storage tank at the farm can be pumped out and sent underground a little bit at a time to fertilize the crop, Meiners said.
Typically, a farmer applies fertilizer once before crops start to grow, but that method causes odor and run-off problems, Meiners said. With a sub-irrigation system, farmers will be able to fertilize more regularly during the growing season.
And since it's underground, it won't stink like traditional hog manure-fertilizer.
"They're different odors. Hogs smell the worst," Rhykerd said.
Without the stench, hogs themselves also would live in a healthier environment, and could see health benefits and need fewer antibiotics, Feit said. People who work around the animals would benefit from the cleaner air, too, he said.
In addition, farmers could see yield increases ranging from 60 to more than 100 bushels per acre with a sub-irrigation system, said Mark Miller, with Agrem marketing.
A sub-irrigation installation typically costs about $2,000 an acre, Meiners said.
The total cost of the ISU farm project was about $80,000 and was paid for with state and federal grants.
ISU's system could pave the way for the hog industry to grow, said Russell Derango, farm manager for the ISU farm. Farmers could have more hogs on their farms or other farmers could go back to raising the animals if they could dispose of waste in an underground system, Derango said.
ISU researchers are glad to take the sub-irrigation system to new depths.
"It's a wonderful way to get rid of this liquid waste," Rhykerd said.