Biosolids help rehabilitate well-used farmland in Valley

Bobby Bagley knew the property well, having lived his youth not far from its location.  It’s in the valley, near Staunton, in an area where farms are common.

As Bagley tells it, there wasn’t much there.  It had been well used by the previous owner and the soils were in pretty poor condition.  Returning the land to productivity would be, as Bagley said, “starting from nothing.”

“It was a stressed environment,” he said.  “The overall condition was poor and the entire property needed fertilizer. When I started, there wasn’t much to support anything, much less cattle.”

The property he speaks of is about 600 acres and currently has about 300 beef cattle.  The land is leased.  While most of the land is in pasture for cattle, Bagley does maintain a small area for row crops.

To begin the rehabilitation, Bagley worked with his biosolids contractor, Houff’s Feed & Fertilizer, which developed with him a nutrient management plan to annually apply biosolids from a regional water recycling facility at a reduced application rate. The biosolids and their application are provided at no cost to the farmer as a part of the facility’s biosolids recycling program.

The biosolids worked.

He’s not the first farmer to employ biosolids on his working farm. Their benefits have been documented for many decades by both researchers and hundreds of working farmers like Bagley.

“I talked to several of my neighbors before using biosolids,” he explained. “Since using the material, the results have been very positive. My farm is much more productive today, certainly compared to where we started.”

“The results have provided an example for several of my closest neighbors,” said Bagley, “as they have witnessed, as I have, the economic and resource benefits of biosolids on this property.”

For farmers who want to grow hay/pasture, biosolids contain many essential plant nutrients, including the primary macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and, to a lesser extent, potassium; the secondary macronutrients magnesium, calcium and sulfur; and such micronutrients as copper, zinc, iron, manganese, molybdenum and boron.  The organic matter in biosolids improves soil quality, reduces compaction, and increases water-holding capacity.  Additionally, as recent research has shown, the use of biosolids also increases water conservation and resistance of crops to drought.

“I am always open to learning things,” said Bagley, who’s been involved in agriculture for most of his life. “If we tried to do what we did using commercial fertilizer it would have been very difficult, since the cost of the material would have been prohibitive.  For this farm, and for the goals I have for the property and my cattle, biosolids are an ideal solution to convert unproductive land into a productive property that results in improved resource management and a positive impact on the environment.”