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Multi-regional risk analysis of farm manure use: Balancing soil health and food safety for organic fresh produce production

Oct 13, 2015

SoilsmThis collaboration is a USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) funded project to further the study of the use of animal-based manure in organic agricultural practices in order to best prevent the risk of soil pathogens, and includes researchers from the University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota, University of Maine, the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA’s Economic Research Service Resource and Rural Economics Division, Cornell University, and The Organic Center .

The impetus for the proposal of the grant was the ongoing implementation process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to improve food safety. Last fall, FDA issued revised language for its new SoilHealth1smrules implementing the FSMA Produce Safety Rule regulations. Of the revisions, one of the most notable to the organic sector were changes made relating to the use of manure and the required interval that untreated manure could be applied and crops harvested. FDA deferred from its earlier proposed 9-month minimum interval requirement to give the agency time to conduct research into determining an appropriate science-based application interval. FDA expects this process will take at least five years. In the meantime, all organic operations covered under the Produce Safety Rule have continued to follow the established National Organic Program regulations for application of raw manure, with 90- or 120-day application intervals.

Organic agriculture is of of the most strictly regulated system of agriculture, with a rigorously-enforced list of practices by which organic producers adhere. Certified organic producers are prohibited from using synthetic fertilizer on their crops.  Instead they often utilize animal-based soil amendments including manure and compost to improve their soil fertility and quality.

Last year, an OREI planning grant, which was conceived and written in collaboration with The Organic Center (TOC) and The Organic Trade Association (OTA) as well as others, was awarded to UC Davis to explore current practices used by the organic industry related to manure, compost use and rotational grazing. As part of that initiative, UC Davis, The Organic Center, the Organic Trade Association and other collaborators conducted farmer-focused public meetings, as well as online survey and interviews, to allow farmers to voice concerns and beliefs regarding the use of manure and compost and any potential associated food safety risks.

Photo Credit: Ian Barbour

Photo Credit: Ian Barbour

Building on the research plan developed by the planning grant, this project will provide critical information for guidelines on risk mitigation of foodborne pathogens for organic and sustainable agriculture.

Several studies have shown that the use of manure and compost has multiple positive environmental impacts: increased soil health, higher soil biodiversity and reduced erosion. The improved soil health and microbial diversity in organic soils has the potential to control the presence of soil pathogens which can impact food safety. But little research has examined the specific wait periods between manure application and crop harvest required to control pathogens, and how pathogen presence interacts with healthy soil in organic systems.

The specific goals of the project include:

  • Develop a risk analysis of on-farm practices associated with persistence of pathogens on organic farms using manure and compost;
  • Determine the relationship between soil health and pathogen survival in organically managed produce fields treated with animal manure;
  • Develop a comprehensive outreach program to provide technical and systems-based produce safety training.



anrThe University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources released a blog about our study! Their post is helping us find farmers in California who are interested in partnering with us on our research.  It’s not too late – we’re still looking for farmers in California.  We’ll be collecting produce, water, soil, and manure samples to test them for bacterial indicators, and in exchange for participating the the two-year study we’re offering a $700 stipend.  Contact Dr. Pires at (530) 754-9855 or apires@ucdavis.edu, or Dr. Jay-Russell at (530) 219-4628 or mjay@ucdavis.edu if you are interested!



Photo credit: Bob Dass

Photo credit: Bob Dass

We are looking for farms to participate in our research on vegetable production that uses raw manure (dairy or chicken or horse)! The core goal of the study is to validate the 90 days wait period, or potentially provide information on how long it really takes for pathogens to disappear from soil and produce after raw manure application. During the study duration, we would like to collect a soil sample and a manure samples before any manure is applied, a soil sample soon after manure is applied, and 6 soil and produce samples during the growing season, every 30 days, for biological analysis. The study will go on for 2 years and at the end the farmer will be given $700 for participating in the entire 2 year project.  For contact information or more information on how to participate view our California flier if you are located on the West Coast, our Maine flier if you are located in the Northeast, or Maryland flier if you are located on the mid-East Coast, and our Midwest flier if you are located in  Minnesota, Northern Iowa, eastern Dakotas, and western Wisconsin.



We are thrilled to announce that we have been awarded funding for our research from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative.  The grant (exact amount $1,999,848) will support research examining the relationship between manure use in improving soil health and food safety, concentrating on organic fresh produce production. Read the full press release here!


Our research is getting underway! Here are some photos from one of our farm sites in Maine.

Close up of manure pile heavy with waste hey and wood shavings.

Close up of manure pile heavy with waste hay and wood shavings.

Three beds on the left are the sample beds, after manure application. The farm will place a tarp over the beds, without incorporating the manure, for no-till bed preparation for fall greens.

Three beds on the left are the sample beds, after manure application. The farm will place a tarp over the beds, without incorporating the manure, for no-till bed preparation for fall greens.

Loading fresh manure to take to the field

Loading fresh manure to take to the field.

Cow and chicken in front of manure pile.

Cow and chicken in front of manure pile.

Sampling tool box for the project.

Sampling tool box for the project.

2-day old calf with mother.

2-day old calf with mother.



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