Recycled urine fertilizes hay at local farm

BRATTLEBORO — The Rich Earth Institute has completed its first season of scientifically controlled field trials using sanitized human urine to fertilize hay on a Brattleboro farm.

Sixty enthusiastic community members have already donated 600 gallons of urine for this ground-breaking project.

The state-approved experiment is a United States first, according to the institute. Preliminary results reportedly are “impressive.” Researchers said they found that an experimental urine-treated area produced an approximately three times greater yield than the unfertilized control area.

Further analysis of soil, urine, and hay samples is under way to determine nutrient levels and microbial activities, the institute reports.

The Rich Earth Institute, founded in 2011, is dedicated to advancing and promoting the use of human manure as a resource. Through research, demonstration, and education projects, it works “to illustrate the positive effect of this approach in important areas including water quality, food security, energy use, soil health, economic sustainability, carbon footprint, public health, and emergency preparedness,” according to its website.

Urine is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. When urine is flushed, these nutrients find their way into rivers and lakes, polluting them and harming important aquatic habitats.

According to the institute, recycling urine into fertilizer prevents pollution from reaching waterways, and turns liquid human waste into a resource, returning nutrients to farmland as an affordable, yield-boosting fertilizer. Urine that is collected locally, sanitized and transported to farm fields reportedly is an effective and sustainable alternative to synthetic fertilizer.

Rich Earth Institute co-founders Abe Noe-Hays and Kim Nace said they have been working closely with Environmental Protection Agency researchers, scientists at UVM, the University of Michigan, and leaders at the Water Environment Research Foundation to continue and expand their research.

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