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Another View On Byproducts

“ One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure” can have application when it comes to nutrient management.

The use of materials considered as waste by a manufacturing plant, city, or farm, can be considered a resource by someone else. For millennia there has been common practice of disposing of waste products by spreading these materials on farmland. Often, this can be beneficial to growing crops. For example, when manure from a livestock facility is spread and incorporated onto nearby fields of neighbouring farms, the plant nutrients in the manure are utilized by subsequent crops.

Application of municipal and industrial waste byproducts onto agricultural land is also a common handling method. Often, these products contain plant nutrients and utilizing them as sources of nutrients is beneficial to both the city or factory and crop production on the farmland. However, industrial wastes often contain elements or compounds that are not required

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Be aware of all the elements and compounds and their concentrations contained in the waste material and whether or not the byproduct will be beneficial, or at least not adverse, to crop production and land environmental health.

or beneficial to crops and in some cases can increase residually in soils to the point of crop toxicity, or be taken up into the harvested portions of crops to the point that the feed or food becomes unsuitable for livestock or human consumption. For example biosolids from some municipal sewage treatment plants do contain plant nutrients from human waste, but also can contain heavy metals from cleaning and construction compounds that limit how much and how often municipal biosolids can be applied to land.

THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK

If a company approaches you to apply an industrial byproduct onto your land, ask these questions: First, does the product contain plant nutrients and is the mix and amount of nutrients manageable as part of the farm’s nutrient management plan? Second, are the levels of unneeded

and/or potentially toxic elements or compounds low enough to allow land application without adverse crop or environmental consequences? This can be especially important if multiple applications of the products are planned over a number of years. Third, will you be compensated for inconveniences or economic costs when the products are applied on fields?

If a company wants to apply a waste product containing plant nutrients at no cost or even compensate you financially, you need to know all the subsequent effects before agreeing to receive the waste product. In some cases, there may not be much benefit to the farmer, either as a source of plant nutrients, or as a source of payment for disposal. But if the product will have no adverse effects on crop production or on long-term soil health, you may agree to receive the product.

One example common in the Northern Great Plains region is the land application of oilfield drilling fluids. These drilling fluids are produced when oil and gas wells are drilled. They are made up of water and added compounds needed to lubricate the drill bits of oil rigs, mixed with ground-up rock material from the surface down to the oil-or gas-containing geologic formations. When an oil well is drilled in an area, the adjacent landowners can be contacted to see whether they are willing to allow land application of drilling fluids. This land application can be much less expensive than if the drilling fluids are hauled to a landfill for disposal, and environmentally the landowner can help reduce material entering local municipal landfills.

Land application of waste products can be a so-called “treasure” to a farmer if it contains plant nutrients needed to grow crops, or if the financial compensation for allowing application helps the economic stability of the farm operation. However, it is important that the farmer be aware of all the elements and compounds and their concentrations contained in the waste material and whether or not the byproduct will be beneficial, or at least not adverse, to crop production and land environmental health in both the short term and long term. It is useful for a landowner to have advice from an agronomic and environmentally knowledgeable consultant or crop adviser before agreeing to receive waste products onto their fields.

Tom Jensen is Northern Great Plains director with IPNI in Saskatoon.

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