ISU review finds majority of technologies aimed at reducing odor and gas emissions from livestock production never see field-scale testing

AMES, Iowa – A review of hundreds of academic journal articles studying technologies to reduce odor and gaseous emissions from livestock and poultry operations shows that most such technologies undergo lab testing but never reach farm-scale study.

The results of the literature review, likely the most comprehensive ever conducted on the topic, shows the difficulty of scaling up new technologies to address gas and odor emissions in livestock production, said Jacek Koziel, an Iowa State associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering.  

“The sort of solutions that make it to field testing are really just the tip of the pyramid,” Koziel said. “We have to do a lot of lab work. If it works in the lab, we move into a pilot-scale study, and if it works there, we may try it on the farm. But most of the time, it doesn’t reach that point.”

Koziel and a team of five other ISU researchers reviewed 265 academic papers published through the end of 2014 that focused on the effectiveness of technologies intended to control gaseous, odor and particulate emissions from livestock and poultry operations. Those mitigation practices focus on animal housing, manure storage and land application techniques.

The researchers published their data in the peer-reviewed journal Data in Brief, which specializes in sharing large datasets among scientists.

After combing through the published studies, the ISU team found that about 25 percent of all mitigation practices examined in the literature made it to field trials. Koziel said that may be due to researchers concluding that experimental techniques didn’t work, and therefore didn’t warrant large-scale experiments. But, in some cases it may also be due to a lack of funding to continue promising research, he said.

The review also found that research devoted to swine operations outpaced similar research for cattle, dairy and poultry production.

“If you sum up all the literature on poultry, dairy and beef cattle, it’s about equal to the body of literature published on air pollution mitigation technology for swine operations,” Koziel said.

In a state like Iowa, a perennial leader in pork, egg, poultry and livestock production, it’s important for producers, regulators and citizens to understand the state of the research and where there may be gaps or unanswered questions.

Koziel said the ISU team intends to use the wealth of data it gathered to strengthen the Air Management Practices Assessment Tool (AMPAT), an online resource managed by ISU Extension and Outreach to help producers gauge various mitigation practices to address odor, emissions and dust. AMPAT helps producers and regulators make informed decisions about emission mitigation practices, Koziel said.

In addition to Koziel, the ISU research team included Devin Maurer, Jay Harmon, Steve Hoff, Dan Andersen and Angie Rieck-Hinz.