Waste not

11/01/2005 02:00:00 AM

Spud growers team with feedlot to produce friendly soil amendment

By Vicky Boyd

In a project where everyone appears to benefit, including the environment, four Idaho potato growers have teamed with a neighboring cattle feedlot to compost manure. The growers, who do the composting, produce a nutrient-laden amendment that helps boost the organic content and water-holding capacity of their sandy and loam soils.

“If, in the end, we can raise a better product with a smaller footprint, we are doing the right thing — we think that is the bottom line,” says Ritchey Toevs, one of the quartet who grows potato and row crops near Aberdeen, Idaho.

“We are not looking at it as an economic venture. We are looking at it as a small step toward more sustainable agricultural production.” The feedlot, for its part, is able to get rid of a waste product that’s hard to manage in its rough form and a nuisance, at the very least.

“I can’t begin to tell you how environmentally friendly it is do it the way we are doing it,” says Dan Hammond, general manager of Snake River Cattle Feeders in American Falls, Idaho. “We have these relationships with these growers. We use their corn and wheat, and they take the compost. It’s just one eternal round.”

Do your homework before embarking
But, as Toevs is quick to point out, such a composting project shouldn’t be entered into lightly. You need to look at your economies of scale, since it probably won’t pay if you only have a small acreage over which to amortize your expenses.

That’s why Toevs says he is involved with three other growers. You also need to have someone who can focus on composting, because the material requires twice-a-week turning. And it shouldn’t be viewed as a total replacement for commercial fertilizers or as an independent profit center for your farm.

Instead, Toevs says, compost can help augment commercial products as well as the farm’s bottom line.  

“There’s a lot of value to compost,but it’s never going to put commercial if people can figure out how to work together to spread the costs of the product over enough acreage and incorporate it into the rotation long enough to understand its real value, then it may work.”

Location, location,location
Ron Wiederholt, a North Dakota State University nutrient management specialist, says composting manure isn’t “rocket science,” but growers should weigh site selection when beginning.

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