Rebecca Brown conducts swine research to help High Country farmers fertilize their soil

Honors senior Rebecca Brown is conducting research on whether hog manure can be used as a soil fertilizer. Brown is a Chancellor’s Scholar majoring in sustainable development with a concentration in agroecology and sustainable agriculture and minoring in chemistry. In her research, she is comparing hog manure to two other organic amendments in order to address the challenge of finding sources of phosphorus for High Country farmers to fertilize their soil. As Brown said,

“If swine manure can be used, I think a lot of farmers who are not just in the High Country, but farmers anywhere could benefit from this research.”

For her thesis research, Brown is working with Dr. Anne Fanatico, associate professor in the Department of Sustainable Development as her thesis director, and Mr. Eddy Labus, Extension Agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension as her second reader. Mr. Richard Boyland, area agent for the NC Cooperative Extension is also serving on her thesis committee. Mr. Boylan is allowing Brown to complete her research on a portion of his land at Otus Branch Farm in Todd, NC.

In photo above, Rebecca Brown spreads bone meal on one of the plots at Otus Branch Farm in Todd, NC, where she is conducting her thesis research.


Brown plans to pursue further swine research in graduate school and then as a future career. She shared,

“I hope to be a part of Cooperative Extension as an agent or specialist, where a significant part of the job is conducting research. Research is important when we are wanting to improve agriculture and it also provides educational opportunities for farmers. My passion towards research, education, and outreach is ultimately reflected in my thesis and is overall something that I find to be fun and exciting!”

In her current thesis research project, Brown is conducting soil tests over the next six months in order to compare her results and test her hypothesis. Specifically, she explained, 

“Hogs do not possess the large quantities of the phytase enzyme to digest and break down phytate in phosphorus, which result in high amounts of phosphorus in their manure. In the High Country, the soils are typically lower in phosphorous because of the younger soils. Therefore, my research seeks to test the hypothesis that by using hog manure as a soil amendment, farmers in the high country can increase the phosphorus in their soil. Increasing the phosphorus in the soil would allow farmers to ensure their soil has the right amount of nutrients to maintain and grow their crops. I am comparing the hog manure to rock phosphate and bone meal. These two are two organic fertilizers that farmers practicing organic techniques commonly use to increase the phosphorus content in their soil.”

Brown’s research is one example of how Honors theses contribute knowledge that directly impacts our communities and world.


Top photo features Rebecca Brown with her thesis research materials at Otus Branch Farm in Todd, NC.

Published: Oct 30, 2020 9:07am