Beer and poop — a foul cocktail that could clean up the farming industry, study finds – Miami Herald

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Beer being poured from the tap at Dreaming Dog Brewery in Elk Grove on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Jason Pierce

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A beer and poop cocktail sounds gross, but to farmers it can be a godsend. The use of chemicals to rid agricultural land of damaging pests is known to harm the environment and those who maintain it. But a new study found that whisking byproducts from beer production and oil extraction from seeds, together with some fresh cow poop, creates an odd but effective pesticide, according to researchers from the Neiker Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development in Spain. The cocktail increased lettuce crop yields by about 15% over one year, all while treating parasites that attack plant roots, promoting sustainable food systems and reducing harmful agricultural waste. The study was published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. “There are still many questions to answer so that we can gain a better understanding of what happens in the soil during and after these biodisinfestation treatments,” study lead author and Ph.D. student Maite Gandariasbeitia said in a statement. “This can help us to really elucidate what characteristics we should be looking for in other potential organic treatments to be effective in tackling soil parasite populations.” To clean soils of damaging parasites, researchers treated lettuce crops growing in a greenhouse with spent beer grains called bagasse, byproducts from harvested rapeseed plants called rapeseed cake and fresh cow manure. The treated soil was already naturally infested with nematodes — soil parasites that plow through plant’s root tissues to lay eggs, causing knot-like swellings — that led to more than a 45% yield loss in the last harvest before the study began. Root galling caused by root-knot nematode infestation. Maite Gandariasbeitia et al “This damage negatively impacts root development and means the crop can’t take up nutrients efficiently, slowing plant growth and ultimately, leading to reduced yields for farmers,” Gandariasbeitia said. After the first crop treatment, the team learned the swollen knots on the plants’ roots were reduced significantly. And after one year, the yields increased by 15% and saw boosted populations of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, “as demonstrated by a significantly higher soil respiration rate,” the researchers said. A productive lettuce yield following the researchers’ new biodisinfestation method. Maite Gandariasbeitia et al The cocktail has been shown to work in previous studies as well, the team noted, because the organic materials have a high nutrient content that promotes the activity of helpful little organisms that break down organic matter like poop and kill parasites. The treatment can also help reduce agricultural pollution released into waterways, our air and even our food, which may contain the chemical pesticides used to keep harmful critters at bay. Pesticides are regularly detected in 90% of our streams and rivers, and Americans now have an average of 43 different pesticides in their blood, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. These chemicals can cause disease in humans and kill off pollinators such as butterflies and native bees that help put food on our plates.

Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter based in Miami. She’s an alumna of Boston University and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.

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