County passes resolution on soil amendment applications

Tractors are being used to spread soil amendments on property on sites throughout Jefferson County.
Tractors are being used to spread soil amendments on property on sites throughout Jefferson County.

After hearing complaints for months about how the stench and flies from neighboring properties receiving Georgia Department of Agriculture registered soil amendments are negatively impacting area residents, the Jefferson County Commissioners recently passed a resolution expressing its opposition to the practice and urging state officials to provide improved oversight.

“This resolution lets the general assembly know that we oppose the practice. We understand that they need to have a way to dispose of this, but really there needs to be some other ways of looking at it,” said County Administrator Jerry Coalson. “The Department of Agriculture needs to put more emphasis and money in inspectors and making sure that this stuff is being regulated and monitored.”

Soil amendments, which in Jefferson County are often byproducts from food processing facilities such as the washdown from equipment at dog and cat food plants or chicken processing facilities, are substances permitted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture that are intended to enhance the characteristics of soil.

Recovered Materials Company, LLC, (RMC) which has been hauling these amendments into the area for the last 12 months, has said that these products help farmers by increasing the soil’s penetrability by water or air, increasing its water-holding capacity or decreasing soil compaction. While RMC says that it has had no violations since receiving its registration in June 2021, and aims to remain in compliance with all state and local regulations, it also said that product control contractors are often responsible for the storing and applications of these amendments.

The resolution expresses the commission’s concerns that these soil amendments, which are marketed to farmers as a cheap or free alternative to fertilizer, may pose a risk to humans, livestock and environmental health and believes that there is significant “lack of clarity” regarding the ingredients and application.

The county says that the rules and jurisdictions created by the Department of Agriculture “disempowers local governments’ ability to protect its citizens” and that, in many cases, the use of these food industry wastes appear to be more like “landfill operations and not agricultural operations.”

The county points to the use of these products not just in cow pastures or hay fields, but also on fallow fields where there are no agricultural products and at other times in what it refers to as “excessive (application) rates.”

In the resolution the county says that it believes the improper use of these products is threatening the lives and livelihoods of its residents and believes that the Department of Agriculture does not have the “proper regulatory framework or manpower in place to effectively run the” program and so officially asks the state to improve oversight of the ingredients and application.

It also requests the state give the county the “right to know and the ability to provide enforcement assistance to the Georgia Department of Agriculture staff.”

Coalson said that Jefferson County is watching to see what tactics and success other nearby counties have in dealing with these land applications.

“With a lobby this strong, there’s only certain things we can do,” Coalson said. “We are interested in the ability to have our own enforcement locally. We’ve been told we don’t have enforcement jurisdiction over and over again. What we’ve read says that as well. We’re trying to find some other way we can monitor our situation.”

The county’s resolution has been forwarded to Gov. Brian Kemp, state Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, the president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, and other state officials with ties to the agricultural industry.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: County passes resolution on soil amendment applications