In this column, I draw your attention to the idea of reclaiming human urine for fertilizing crops. But don’t grab a Mason jar just yet.

The Rich Earth Institute1 is postulating that human urine should be collected to replace synthetic fertilizers. The benefits of doing this, they claim:

  • Reduces the use of irrigated water
  • Cuts down on water pollutants (but I’m thinking, what about birth-control medications excreted fentanyl drug residue, or other addictive chemicals in urine?)
  • Provides farmers a sustainable alternative to fertilizers
  • Nourishes plants with major nutrients that are plentiful in urine, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (aka potash)

My boys, apparently, were way ahead of the Rich Earth Institute. Or maybe they considered it a waste of their time to go inside and take advantage of our indoor plumbing. When they were young, they often peed on a tree in our front yard in sight of a heavily traveled road.

Whatever their reason, the tree flourished without me having to buy fertilizer. The Rare Earth Institute reports that field trials have shown urine-derived fertilizer to be the equal of synthetic fertilizer in enhancing crop yields.

If you’re reading this over breakfast, lunch or dinner, now’s the time to put down your utensils and back away from the table.

I warned you.

Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, according to records dating back thousands of years, consumed urine for various health, healing and cosmetic purposes. There are even indications that American pioneers sometimes brushed their teeth with urine.

But even in more recent times, some people still believe in the therapeutic value of human urine. That includes Lyoto Carvalho Machida, aka The Dragon, a Brazilian mixed martial artist who regularly drinks his own urine. He is considered one of the best martial arts fighters in the world. Machida reported that when he is in intense training the practice helps his conditioning. I suggest that it conditions his stomach to prevent him from vomiting.

Mahatma Gandhi claimed he drank a couple ounces of his own urine every day for many years.

I’ve never had a taste myself, but several years ago I pulled a fast one while appearing on camera for a major bovine nutrition company. The video spot was about monitoring the urine pH of late-pregnancy cows to ensure that their special late-pregnancy diet was satisfactorily boosting their health through the first few weeks after calving. The science behind this is sound and is now used for almost every major dairy herd in the U.S.

In my presentation I discussed the importance of checking these cows’ urine pH weekly. I suggested that if a pH meter wasn’t available, you could use a urinalysis test strip, pH paper, or what the ancient medicine man would do to detect patients with diabetes – use your tongue.

Before the video shoot began, I had discretely placed a small cup of Mountain Dew on the shelf under my lectern. When I got to my line about the ancient medicine man’s technique, I lifted the tiny cup of Mountain Dew and drank some.

The cameraman gagged and nearly dropped his camera. The sound man dropped his overhead mike. Filming had to stop until the crew recovered and realized they had been had.

Now back to the Rich Earth Institute’s position that human urine could replace artificial fertilizer. Let’s do the math.

The average American adult urinates 378 to 576 liters a year. So, how many Americans would have to contribute their share to produce enough urine fertilizer for a corn crop without having to use synthetic fertilizer?

Generally, farmers who irrigate their corn crop apply one inch of water per acre-foot several times a year to ensure a good harvest. This varies significantly each year depending upon rainfall. Obviously, in areas such as the central Midwest and Southwest, more waterings are required.

I won’t bore you with all the math, but one acre (43,560 square feet) would require 325,851 gallons of water if you were to apply one inch of water each time you turned on the irrigation system.

You would need the urine of 556 red-blooded Americans with extra strong kidneys, each expelling the maximum amount of 576 liters a year, to supply just one acre-inch and the accompanying nutrients. That just doesn’t compute. We have 895 million acres of cropland to irrigate in the U.S. and 335 million Americans.

Does it seem logical or a good idea to invest in reclaiming piss other than making some of us feel warm and fuzzy all over? I only get this feeling when I can’t unzip my fly fast enough.