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Spring is in the air, though folks living near a farm just outside of Chiefland say it's not the sweet perfume of fresh blooms they've been smelling lately.
"I thought, Jesus, God, somebody's septic tank has overflowed," said Dexter Hughes, a resident living near Manatee Springs State Park, about a recent stench still permeating the air in the area.
His brother and roommate Carleton Pierce said, "It drifted over here, and it stayed for the longest time. It was quite unpleasant. The first thing I did was look at the bottom of my shoes."
But the olfactory offense wasn't from a septic tank or anything on the bottom of Pierce's shoes—not this time, anyway, admits Pierce, who has cats.
The smell had drifted over from farmland owned by White Farms Holding Co. LLC near the corner of Manatee Springs Road and N.W. 110th Ave., where workers were, as of Thursday, still busy spreading acres of chicken litter.
Annette Long, who also lives near the farm, said the nauseating smell has drawn vultures and swarms of flies and biting gnats. Many of her neighbors have been in an uproar for days, she said.
"I'm concerned about the folks who live in the edge of the field. We live a half mile through the woods and we have the stench in the house with the A/C running full blast," she wrote in an email. " I don't think there is anything the public can do but suffer through it .... The neighborhood is already plagued by polluted water runoff, now we have to bear the stench."
University of Florida agricultural extension agent Anthony Drew stated Friday in an email that the smell should dissipate after a week or two as the litter, comprised of chicken feces and other organic matter, is turned into the soil and has had time to compost.
"The farmer indicates he will be finished by mid next week latest," Drew wrote, adding that the use of chicken manure as fertilizer in the area, typically applied from one to two tons per acre, is not a new practice and has caused him to have to address occasional complaints over the years.
It's also a cheaper alternative fertilizer, according to Drew, and is considered more environmentally friendly, working as a "slow release" fertilizer and also helping to hold onto nutrients, such as nitrogen, that might otherwise be washed out of the root zone.
Drew stated that, though a few farmers have used chicken manure recently to help fertilize upcoming corn crops —something area farmers are focusing on because of drought last year in the nation's corn belt —the "manure 'season' is about over."
Other than the nuisance put up with by area residents, Drew said he wasn't aware of any other concerns, such as those associated with health threats, stemming from the spread of chicken manure on fields.
Still, both UF's and the United States Department of Agriculture's websites state that there can be issues with chicken manure, especially if it's not plowed into the soil or composted properly, though the issue is most prevalent at large farms where poultry is produced.
Poultry wastes can contain at least 10 species of bacteria, including salmonella, corynebacterium, staphylococcus, streptococcus and one species of mycobacterium, which is "occasionally responsible for tuberculosis," according to the USDA.
Viruses, such as those responsible for newcastle disease and chlamydia, are also known to live in chicken manure, the use of which is not regulated by the state.
Pathogens, heavy metals and excess nutrients can all "potentially contaminate both surface
water and groundwater resources," according to USDA.