Agricultural wastewater treatment
Agricultural wastewater treatment relates to the treatment of wastewaters produced in the course of agricultural activities. Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 is a highly intensified industry in many parts of the world, producing a range of wastewaters requiring a variety of treatment technologies and management practices.

Nonpoint source pollution

Nonpoint source pollution
Nonpoint source pollution
Nonpoint source pollution refers to both water and air pollution from diffuse sources. Nonpoint source water pollution affects a water body from sources such as polluted runoff from agricultural areas draining into a river, or wind-borne debris blowing out to sea. Nonpoint source air pollution...

 from farms is caused by surface runoff
Surface runoff
Surface runoff is the water flow that occurs when soil is infiltrated to full capacity and excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flows over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle. Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a channel is also called a nonpoint source...

 from fields during rain storms. Agricultural runoff is a major source of pollution
Water pollution
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies . Water pollution occurs when pollutants are discharged directly or indirectly into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds....

, in some cases the only source, in many watersheds
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...


Sediment runoff

Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 washed off fields is the largest source of agricultural pollution in the United States. Excess sediment causes high levels of turbidity
Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air. The measurement of turbidity is a key test of water quality....

 in water bodies, which can inhibit growth of aquatic plant
Aquatic plant
Aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments. They are also referred to as hydrophytes or aquatic macrophytes. These plants require special adaptations for living submerged in water, or at the water's surface. Aquatic plants can only grow in water or in soil that is...

s, clog fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

A gill is a respiratory organ found in many aquatic organisms that extracts dissolved oxygen from water, afterward excreting carbon dioxide. The gills of some species such as hermit crabs have adapted to allow respiration on land provided they are kept moist...

s and smother animal larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...


Farmers may utilize erosion control
Erosion control
Erosion control is the practice of preventing or controlling wind or water erosion in agriculture, land development and construction. Effective erosion controls are important techniques in preventing water pollution and soil loss.-Introduction:...

s to reduce runoff flows and retain soil on their fields. Common techniques include:
  • contour plowing
    Contour plowing
    Contour plowing or contour farming is the farming practice of plowing across a slope following its elevation contour lines. The rows formed slow water run-off during rainstorms to prevent soil erosion and allow the water time to settle into the soil...

  • crop mulch
    In agriculture and gardening, is a protective cover placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination. Mulching in gardens and landscaping mimics the leaf cover that is found on forest floors....

  • crop rotation
    Crop rotation
    Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons.Crop rotation confers various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals...

  • planting perennial crops
  • installing riparian buffer
    Riparian buffer
    A riparian buffer is a vegetated area near a stream, usually forested, which helps shade and partially protect a stream from the impact of adjacent land uses...


Nutrient runoff

Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 and phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

 are key pollutants found in runoff, and they are applied to farmland in several ways:
  • commercial fertilizer
    Fertilizer is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin that is added to a soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. A recent assessment found that about 40 to 60% of crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use...

  • animal manure
    Manure is organic matter used as organic fertilizer in agriculture. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are trapped by bacteria in the soil...

  • municipal or industrial wastewater (effluent) or sludge.

These chemicals may also enter runoff from crop residue
Crop residue
There are two types of agricultural crop residues:Field residues are materials left in an agricultural field or orchard after the crop has been harvested. These residues include stalks and stubble , leaves, and seed pods...

s, irrigation
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

 water, wildlife
Wildlife includes all non-domesticated plants, animals and other organisms. Domesticating wild plant and animal species for human benefit has occurred many times all over the planet, and has a major impact on the environment, both positive and negative....

, and atmospheric deposition
Deposition (Aerosol physics)
In aerosol physics, Deposition is the process by which aerosol particles collect or deposit themselves on solid surfaces, decreasing the concentration of the particles in the air. It can be divided into two sub-processes: dry and wet deposition. The rate of deposition, or the deposition velocity,...


Farmers can develop and implement nutrient management
Nutrient management
Nutrient management is a system used by farmers to manage the amount, form, placement, and timing of the application of nutrients to plants...

 plans to mitigate impacts on water quality:
  • map and document fields, crop types, soil type
    Soil type
    In terms of soil texture, soil type usually refers to the different sizes of mineral particles in a particular sample. Soil is made up in part of finely ground rock particles, grouped according to size as sand, silt and clay...

    s, water bodies
  • develop realistic crop yield
    Crop yield
    In agriculture, crop yield is not only a measure of the yield of cereal per unit area of land under cultivation, yield is also the seed generation of the plant itself...

  • conduct soil test
    Soil test
    In agriculture, a soil test is the analysis of a soil sample to determine nutrient and contaminant content, composition and other characteristics such as acidity or pH level. Tests are usually performed to measure the expected growth potential of a soil...

    s and nutrient analyses of manures and/or sludges applied
  • identify other significant nutrient sources (e.g. irrigation water)
  • evaluate significant field features such as highly erodible soils, subsurface drains, and shallow aquifers
  • apply fertilizers, manures, and/or sludges based on realistic yield goals and using precision agriculture
    Precision agriculture
    Precision farming or precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing and responding to intra-field variations.It relies on new technologies like satellite imagery, information technology, and geospatial tools...



Pesticides are widely used by farmers to control plant pests and enhance production
Agricultural productivity
Agricultural productivity is measured as the ratio of agricultural outputs to agricultural inputs. While individual products are usually measured by weight, their varying densities make measuring overall agricultural output difficult...

, but chemical pesticides can also cause water quality
Water quality
Water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. It is a measure of the condition of water relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which...

 problems. Pesticides may appear in surface water
Surface water
Surface water is water collecting on the ground or in a stream, river, lake, wetland, or ocean; it is related to water collecting as groundwater or atmospheric water....

 due to:
  • direct application (e.g. aerial spraying or broadcasting over water bodies)
  • runoff during rain storms
  • aerial drift (from adjacent fields).

Some pesticides have also been detected in groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...


Farmers may use Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management is an ecological approach to agricultural pest control that integrates pesticides/herbicides into a management system incorporating a range of practices for economic control of a pest...

 (IPM) techniques (which can include biological pest control
Biological pest control
Biological control of pests in agriculture is a method of controlling pests that relies on predation, parasitism, herbivory, or other natural mechanisms...

) to maintain control over pests, reduce reliance on chemical pesticides, and protect water quality.

There are few safe ways of disposing of pesticide surpluses other than through containment in well managed landfills or by incineration
Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of organic substances contained in waste materials. Incineration and other high temperature waste treatment systems are described as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, flue gas, and...

. In some parts of the world, spraying on land is a permitted method of disposal.

Point source pollution

Farms with large livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

 and poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

 operations, such as factory farms, can be a major source of point source wastewater. In the United States, these facilities are called concentrated animal feeding operations or confined animal feeding operations and are being subject to increasing government regulation
Regulation is administrative legislation that constitutes or constrains rights and allocates responsibilities. It can be distinguished from primary legislation on the one hand and judge-made law on the other...


Animal wastes

The constituents of animal wastewater typically contain
  • Strong organic content — much stronger than human sewage
  • High solids
    Total suspended solids
    Total suspended solids is a water quality measurement usually abbreviated TSS. It is listed as a conventional pollutant in the U.S. Clean Water Act. This parameter was at one time called non-filterable residue , a term that refers to the identical measurement: the dry-weight of particles trapped...

  • High nitrate
    The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the molecular formula NO and a molecular mass of 62.0049 g/mol. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identically-bonded oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a...

     and phosphorus content
  • Antibiotics
  • Synthetic hormones
  • Often high concentrations of parasites and their eggs
  • Spores of Cryptosporidum
    Cryptosporidiosis, also known as crypto, is a parasitic disease caused by Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite in the phylum Apicomplexa. It affects the intestines of mammals and is typically an acute short-term infection...

    (a protozoan) resistant to drinking water treatment processes
  • Spores of Giardia
    Giardia is a genus of anaerobic flagellated protozoan parasites of the phylum Metamonada in the supergroup "Excavata" that colonise and reproduce in the small intestines of several vertebrates, causing giardiasis, commonly known as Beaver fever...

  • Human pathogenic bacteria such as Brucella
    Brucellosis, also called Bang's disease, Crimean fever, Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, Maltese fever, Mediterranean fever, rock fever, or undulant fever, is a highly contagious zoonosis caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals or close contact with their secretions...

    and Salmonella
    Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped, Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, predominantly motile enterobacteria with diameters around 0.7 to 1.5 µm, lengths from 2 to 5 µm, and flagella which grade in all directions . They are chemoorganotrophs, obtaining their energy from oxidation and reduction...

Animal wastes from cattle can be produced as solid or semisolid manure or as a liquid slurry
A slurry is, in general, a thick suspension of solids in a liquid.-Examples of slurries:Examples of slurries include:* Lahars* A mixture of water and cement to form concrete* A mixture of water, gelling agent, and oxidizers used as an explosive...

. The production of slurry is especially common in housed dairy cattle.


Whilst solid manure heaps outdoors can give rise to polluting wastewaters from runoff, this type of waste is usually relatively easy to treat by containment and/or covering of the heap.

Animal slurries require special handling and are usually treated by containment in lagoons before disposal by spray or trickle application to grassland. Constructed wetland
Constructed wetland
A constructed wetland or wetpark is an artificial wetland, marsh or swamp created as a new or restored habitat for native and migratory wildlife, for anthropogenic discharge such as wastewater, stormwater runoff, or sewage treatment, for land reclamation after mining, refineries, or other...

s are sometimes used to facilitate treatment of animal wastes, as are anaerobic lagoons. Excessive application or application to sodden land or insufficient land area can result in direct runoff to watercourses, with the potential for causing severe pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

. Application of slurries to land overlying aquifer
An aquifer is a wet underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials from which groundwater can be usefully extracted using a water well. The study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology...

s can result in direct contamination or, more commonly, elevation of nitrogen levels as nitrite
The nitrite ion has the chemical formula NO2−. The anion is symmetric with equal N-O bond lengths and a O-N-O bond angle of ca. 120°. On protonation the unstable weak acid nitrous acid is produced. Nitrite can be oxidised or reduced, with product somewhat dependent on the oxidizing/reducing agent...

 or nitrate.

The disposal of any wastewater containing animal waste upstream of a drinking water intake can pose serious health problems to those drinking the water because of the highly resistant spores present in many animals that are capable of causing disabling disease in humans. This risk exists even for very low-level seepage via shallow surface drains or from rainfall run-off.

Some animal slurries are treated by mixing with straws and composted at high temperature to produce a bacteriologically sterile and friable manure for soil improvement.

Piggery waste

Piggery waste is comparable to other animal wastes except that many piggery wastes contain elevated levels of copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 that can be toxic in the natural environment. Ascarid
Ascariasis is a human disease caused by the parasitic roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides. Perhaps as many as one quarter of the world's people are infected, with rates of 45% in Latin America and 95% in parts of Africa. Ascariasis is particularly prevalent in tropical regions and in areas of poor...

 worms and their eggs are also common and can infect humans if wastewater treatment is ineffective.


As for general animal waste, although the liquid fraction of the waste is frequently separated off and re-used in the piggery to avoid the prohibitively expensive costs of disposing of a copper-rich liquor.

Silage liquor

Fresh or wilted grass
Grasses, or more technically graminoids, are monocotyledonous, usually herbaceous plants with narrow leaves growing from the base. They include the "true grasses", of the Poaceae family, as well as the sedges and the rushes . The true grasses include cereals, bamboo and the grasses of lawns ...

 or other green crops can be made into the semi-fermented
Fermentation (food)
Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Fermentation in simple terms is the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol...

 product called silage
Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants or used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It is fermented and stored in a process called ensiling or silaging, and is usually made from grass crops, including corn , sorghum or other cereals, using the entire...

 which can be stored and used as winter forage for cattle and sheep. The production of silage often involves the use of an acid conditioner such as sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 or formic acid
Formic acid
Formic acid is the simplest carboxylic acid. Its chemical formula is HCOOH or HCO2H. It is an important intermediate in chemical synthesis and occurs naturally, most notably in the venom of bee and ant stings. In fact, its name comes from the Latin word for ant, formica, referring to its early...

. The process of silage making frequently produces a yellow-brown strongly smelling liquid which is very rich in simple sugars, alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

, short-chain organic acids and silage conditioner. This liquor is one of the most polluting organic substances known. The volume of silage liquor produced is generally in proportion to the moisture content of the ensiled material.


Silage liquor is best treated through prevention by wilting crops well before silage making. Any silage liquor that is produced can be used as part of the food for pigs.
The most effective treatment is by containment in a slurry lagoon and by subsequent spreading on land following substantial dilution with slurry. Containment of silage liquor on its own can cause structural problems in concrete pits because of the acidic nature of silage liquor.

Milking parlour (dairy farming) wastes

Although milk has a deserved reputation as an important and valuable food product, its presence in wastewaters is highly polluting because of its organic strength, which can lead to very rapid de-oxygenation
Hypoxia (environmental)
Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a phenomenon that occurs in aquatic environments as dissolved oxygen becomes reduced in concentration to a point where it becomes detrimental to aquatic organisms living in the system...

 of receiving waters. Milking parlour wastes also contain large volumes of wash-down water, some animal waste together with cleaning and disinfection
Disinfectants are substances that are applied to non-living objects to destroy microorganisms that are living on the objects. Disinfection does not necessarily kill all microorganisms, especially nonresistant bacterial spores; it is less effective than sterilisation, which is an extreme physical...



Milking parlour wastes are often treated in admixture
In chemistry, a mixture is a material system made up by two or more different substances which are mixed together but are not combined chemically...

 with human sewage in a local sewage treatment
Sewage treatment
Sewage treatment, or domestic wastewater treatment, is the process of removing contaminants from wastewater and household sewage, both runoff and domestic. It includes physical, chemical, and biological processes to remove physical, chemical and biological contaminants...

 plant. This ensures that disinfectants and cleaning agents are sufficiently diluted and amenable to treatment. Running milking wastewaters into a farm slurry lagoon is a possible option although this tends to consume lagoon capacity very quickly. Land spreading is also a treatment option. See also Industrial wastewater treatment
Industrial wastewater treatment
Industrial wastewater treatment covers the mechanisms and processes used to treat waters that have been contaminated in some way by anthropogenic industrial or commercial activities prior to its release into the environment or its re-use....


Slaughtering waste

Wastewater from slaughtering activities is similar to milking parlour waste (see above) although considerably stronger in its organic composition and therefore potentially much more polluting.


As for milking parlour waste (see above).

Vegetable washing water

Washing of vegetable
The noun vegetable usually means an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. This typically means the leaf, stem, or root of a plant....

s produces large volumes of water contaminated by soil and vegetable pieces. Low levels of pesticides used to treat the vegetables may also be present together with moderate levels of disinfectants such as chlorine
Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...



Most vegetable washing waters are extensively recycled with the solids removed by settlement and filtration. The recovered soil can be returned to the land.


Although few farms plan for fires, fires are nevertheless more common on farms than on many other industrial premises. Stores of pesticides, herbicides, fuel oil for farm machinery and fertilizers can all help promote fire and can all be present in environmentally lethal quantities in firewater
Firewater (fire fighting)
Fire water refers to water that has been used in fire fighting and requires disposal. In many cases it is a highly polluting material and requires special care in its disposal...

 from fire fighting at farms.


All farm environmental management plans should allow for containment of substantial quantities of firewater and for its subsequent recovery and disposal by specialist disposal companies. The concentration and mixture of contaminants in firewater make them unsuited to any treatment method available on the farm. Even land spreading has produced severe taste and odour problems for downstream water supply companies in the past.

See also

  • Agricultural surface runoff
  • Agricultural wastewater
  • Dark fermentation
    Dark fermentation
    Dark fermentation is the fermentative conversion of organic substrate to biohydrogen. It is a complex process manifested by diverse group of bacteria by a series of biochemical reactions involving three steps similar to anaerobic conversion...

  • Ecological sanitation
    Ecological sanitation
    Ecological sanitation, also known as ecosan or eco-san, are terms coined to describe a form of sanitation that usually involves urine diversion and the recycling of water and nutrients contained within human wastes back into the local environment....

  • Nonpoint source pollution
    Nonpoint source pollution
    Nonpoint source pollution refers to both water and air pollution from diffuse sources. Nonpoint source water pollution affects a water body from sources such as polluted runoff from agricultural areas draining into a river, or wind-borne debris blowing out to sea. Nonpoint source air pollution...

  • Sustainable agriculture
    Sustainable agriculture
    Sustainable agriculture is the practice of farming using principles of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment...

External links

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