For Sharlene Merk, new research that suggests an unlikely mix of ground horseradish and hydrogen peroxide can curb the stench of hog manure is encouraging.
AUDUBON, Iowa For Sharlene Merk, new research that suggests an unlikely mix of ground horseradish and hydrogen peroxide can curb the stench of hog manure is encouraging.
From the door of her rural farmhouse in southwest Iowa, Merk can see two buildings containing thousands of hogs on a neighboring farm. A second hog farm, with hundreds more animals crammed into three buildings, is less than half a mile away.
The odor often makes Merk and her 71-year-old husband, Leroy, feel physically ill.
"A lot of times we simply have to leave home because it is so bad," said Sharlene Merk, 67.
A recent study, appearing in the June 29 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, emerged from previous research that found that minced horseradish roots, potato tubers and white radish roots -- combined with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide -- removed substances called phenols from water and soil.
Jerzy Dec, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University, said the horseradish mixture cut odor intensity as much as 50 percent. The findings were confirmed through gas chromatography, which documents the chemical makeup of air. According to researchers, the odor-causing chemicals were neutralized for at least 72 hours.
Dec said the horseradish cocktail works because it contains large quantities of an enzyme that breaks down the phenols, which are formed from sugars. The mixture is environmentally friendly and can be reused up to six times before having to be replaced, making it a cost-efficient option for farmers.
Horseradish prices are a little high, but "if this method catches on ... then the prices should drop dramatically," Dec said.
The findings are significant as factory farms continue to expand in Iowa, where hogs outnumber people 5-to-1, and in other rural states across the nation. Such factory operations, which can house thousands of animals under one roof, produce tons of manure, often stored in pits and lagoons.
The stench has caused neighbors to launch legal battles and industry experts worry that it could halt the growth of livestock enterprises.
Dec would like to perform more tests with the horseradish mixture, and he hopes the $40 billion pork industry will dedicate more money toward research on odor control.
"We're using some existing technology, some natural things already," said Leon Sheets, who operates a hog farm near Ionia. "This will just be further enhancement as pork producers try to just be more community friendly."
Other attempts at odor control include a recent study at Purdue University, where scientists are tinkering with ingredients in hog feed. University of Iowa researchers said they developed a system that would reduce odor by bombarding manure with ultrasound, but the process to get a patent has stalled.
Meanwhile, Merk said she would much prefer the smell of horseradish if given a choice.
"I think we could take that a heck of a lot better than the other," she said.
Source: Associated Press