Biosolids improves fields for Louisa County farmer

Ronnie Sharpe’s first experience with biosolids was in 1989. That initial encounter was important.

“It (biosolids) was applied during late fall on some pasture. The following summer there was, if I remember, a drought. The first time I was able to cut hay, we got about 100 square bails more than my neighbor, who was farming about the same amount of land.

“I’ve been a sound believer (of biosolids) since then,” Sharpe said.

He farms in Louisa County, which recently went through an extended biosolids permitting process – this in a county where the beneficial use of biosolids has been applied to family farmers who choose to use biosolids for almost four decades.

He farms about 800 acres with his two sons, Ronnie and Charles. His farm is primarily pasture managed for hay to feed his more than 100 brood cows, registered bulls and heifers, and some commercial heifers. His focus, obviously, is grass. “We try to operate sustainably, growing enough grass on our property to keep our farm sustainable – both environmentally and economically,” Sharpe said, looking across a pasture and farm pond of one of his two farms – this one the approximately 380-acre Owens Creek Farm, located along the western side of Owens Creek in Louisa, not too far from U.S. 522. He farms Owens Creek Farm with the property owner, Donald Lloyd.

“While I have always believed in the value of biosolids, when the discussion started to ramp up here I wanted to make sure biosolids was in fact not doing any harm – so like anyone else I did my homework, as a lot of local farmers did.” Biosolids has not been without its doubters in Louisa. In 2015 and 2016, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality promulgated a permit that would authorize the land application of biosolids in Louisa County.

Sharpe said he knows the improved quality of his hay fields are directly related to the application of biosolids, but he felt the need to make sure there were no other consequences by conducting his own research on-line. “I wanted to make sure that when I stood in support of the permit and biosolids, I was more than confident.

“I came away a believer that there is no better or safer product – commercial products included – I can put on my soil that gives me the yield, and also doesn’t impact my cattle,” he said. “In the more than 25 years I’ve been using biosolids I’ve never seen, or heard from any other farmer around here, any ill effects from using biosolids … with my family or my cattle,” he said.

Sharpe has tried to talk to opponents – some live very close to his farm. “We’re still friends,” he said, “but we’ve agreed to disagree on the subject of biosolids.

While Sharpe lives in a rural area, he understands the cycle of recycling as it relates to biosolids. People in Louisa either live in a community where sewage is treated at a wastewater facility, or their septic system is cleaned, and that material is then transferred to a wastewater facility. The end of the road, regardless, is a treatment plant.

“I look at it this way,” Sharpe said. “We’re taking a byproduct of a modern, efficient process that creates clean water, and through that process creates a product that can be beneficially used to support agricultural activity – in my eyes that’s a win-win for ratepayers and people like me trying to make a living on a farm.”