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Fertilizers Nourish Fields and Taint Fall Breezes

October 18, 1990|LEO SMITH

Most families plan their out-of-town vacations around logical things--such as school, work and money.

Though these factors are important, in Ventura County they may not be the most crucial.

That honor would go to that 10-letter word "fertilizer."

Anyone who has been in the area awhile knows that when soil nourishment time comes around, it's best to be in another part of the world--especially if the wind is blowing.

According to local farmers, the earth gets most of its nutrients during the late fall and winter months.

Farmers use various forms of fertilizer, many of which have little or no odor, such as compost and nitrogen urea.

But that isn't all they use.

"A fair number of vegetable growers use ammonia," said Tony Thatcher, manager of Friends Ranch, a citrus producer in Ojai.

"It smells organic, it smells like sewer. You inject it into the ground and it reacts with it. That's why you get a sewer gas smell in Oxnard. There's also steer manure, fish emulsion, and we use horse manure. It's not a good fertilizer, but it holds moisture."

While fish, steers and horses produce their fair share, most of the blame for foul smells can, in fact, be placed on fowl.

"Some farmers around here use chicken manure," said Mike Shore, owner of Timber Canyon Ranch in Santa Paula. "It can get kind of rank."

Shore prefers steer manure.

"We use it on our field once each year," he said.

"Manure has lots of elements in it--potash, potassium, zinc and manganese. There's something about steer manure that you don't get out of urea. We like to put it on in the late fall, so the winter rain will take it into the soil. There is some smell, but it's intensified hundredfold with chicken manure."

Dave Clark, foreman at Boscovich Farms, can attest to that.

"Ever been around a chicken coop?" he asked. "Nothing quite like the smell of a chicken coop, except maybe a stockyard. We use it mostly for celery. I'm used to it. I just go home smelling like" it.

As bothersome as it might be, though, manure has stood the test of time.

"It's one of the oldest things around, but it still has something that makes it useful in this time of high-tech farming," said Shore.

"It's like potent medicine. It's so awful, it better be good."

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