The Effects of Cow Manure on the Environment

by Chris Dinesen Rogers; Updated September 26, 2017
Cow manure provides environmental benefits and risks

Cow manure has long been used as a fertilizer for crops and gardens. Not as toxic as chemical fertilizers, manure adds beneficial organic material to soils, which helps prevent soil compaction. Soils are better able to retain moisture. However, despite these benefits, agricultural runoff remains a leading cause of water pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nutritional Value

Several factors determine the nutritional value of cow manure for soils and whether manure actually has environmental benefits, including the animal's diet, its bedding, and the animal's age.

Runoff

Runoff from manure increases nitrogen and phosphorus levels in waterways, causing explosions of algae growth that can lead to fish and plant die off, even to the point of creating aquatic dead zones.

Greenhouse Gases

According to a study published in Nature GeoScience, cow manure is a leading contributor of atmospheric nitrous oxide, one of the major greenhouse gases.

Energy Source

The Cow Power program, part of Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), has developed technology that takes cow manure and converts it to energy, which indicates that cow manure can have beneficial environmental effects.

Global Warming

A study published in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters estimates that cow manure can generate up to three percent of North America's energy needs, making it a possible part of the solution to global warming.

References

  • Nature Geoscience; "The contribution of manure and fertilizer nitrogen to atmospheric nitrous oxide since 1860"; Eric A. Davidson; August 2009
  • EnergyBoom.com
  • BioTech

About the Author

Chris Dinesen Rogers has been online marketing for more than eight years. She has grown her own art business through SEO and social media and is a consultant specializing in SEO and website development. Her past work experience includes teaching pre-nursing students beginning biology, human anatomy and physiology. Rogers's more than 10 years in conservation makes her equally at home in the outdoors.

Photo Credits

  • Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of John Haslam