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A Win-Win for Chesapeake Bay Fishermen and Virginia Farmers

Published date: November 18, 2014

Virginia State University's Agricultural Research Station is exploring a sustainable way for farmers and municipalities who manage wastewaters to reduce their environmental and economic impacts, especially to the Chesapeake Bay fishing industry. Thanks to a three-year grant in the amount of $298,849 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 1890 Capacity Building Grant Program, Principal Investigator Dr. Asmare Atalay and Co-Principal Investigators Drs. Reza Rafie and Brian Nerrie will work from September 2014 to August 2017 to develop a method of simultaneously removing nitrogen and phosphorus from animal and municipal wastewaters. The team will design, construct and implement a pilot-scale module for removing these nutrients from wastewaters in a mineral form known as dittmarite. The wastewater for the pilot will be provided by the South Central Wastewater Authority in Petersburg and Chesterfield County and the Virginia Utilities Department.

Dittmarite is considered to be a slow-release fertilizer that supplies nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients important for plant growth. Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential to all living things, including plants and animals. However, the soluble forms of these elements accumulate at high concentrations in rivers, lakes and bays and cause prolific growth of algae. This is usually visible as green vegetative covers over water bodies, but when this vegetative growth dies, oxygen is depleted from the water, negatively impacting the healthy growth of fish, crabs, and other aquatic organisms. 

The investigative team, therefore, is exploring how to remove the dittmarite from wastewater treatment plants, dairy and cattle wastewater detention ponds, septic tanks and aquaculture ponds. But while this dittmarite is detrimental to the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s aquatic life, its essential nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—can be a boon to farmers. As part of the research project, the team will provide an economic assessment of dittmarite as a value-added fertilizer. In other words, the team will explore how to help farmers and municipalities turn what was once an environmentally harmful waste product into a source of revenue. They’ll begin their research on this part of the project by removing the dittmarite from VSU’s own aquaculture ponds and applying it as a fertilizer additive to VSU’s Randolph Farm horticultural crops.

Once the construction of the pilot plant has been completed, the investigative team plans to take the pilot to various locations in Virginia to demonstrate its capability to stakeholders.

Founded in 1882, Virginia State University is one of Virginia's two land-grant institutions and is located 20 minutes south of Richmond. Its Agricultural Research Station is part of the University's College of Agriculture, which provides research-based solutions, information and technology for students, individuals, families and communities to enrich their lives. The College of Agriculture jointly manages Virginia's Cooperative Extension program with Virginia Tech. 

For more information, contact Michelle Olgers, Marketing/Communications at the VSU College of Agriculture:  (804) 524-6964,

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