Oregon farmers sow sludge to boost crops

Oregon farmers sow sludge to boost crops

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) – A growing number of farmers in Linn County are giving their fields a boost with sludge.

Farmers get the sludge from wastewater plants in Linn and Benton counties and spread the biosolids over fields to enhance the soil.

The number of farmers involved isn't huge, it's more than double what it was when the program began over 15 years ago.

"We use it for crops," said John Marble, who has a grazing operation south of Crawfordsville. "It's an important part of our process."

Marble told the Gazette-Times he uses biosolids on about 40 acres.

"It's not like chemical fertilizers," Marble said. "The biosolids bring the organic content of the soil up and increases the soil's ability to hold water. It allows us to extend our growing season farther into the summer."

Albany and Corvallis wastewater facilities provide the material and spread it with application vehicles. The operation shuts down during the rainy season to avoid run-off.

Distribution varies by crop but trucks generally spread about 120 pounds per acre on 3 or 4 acres a day.

Mark Mellbye, Oregon State University extension agent for Linn County said biosolids are used for grass seed, grazing and grain crops, and that much work has gone into making them safe.

The program is regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality. Biosolid permits require pollutants be limited and controlled. Standards are set to prevent spreading germs and limiting organisms that carry disease.

"Most heavy metals are filtered out," Mellbye said.

Herb Hoffer, environmental services manager for the city of Albany, said the program is a good deal for the city and for farmers.

"They get free fertilizer that helps their crops and we have a way to deposit our biosolids," he said.

Albany spends about $32,000 to distribute to farms. Hoffer said the cost is low compared to hauling it to a landfill.

Seven growers are in the Albany program. Five are active. On average three farms take part each summer.

In Corvallis, the numbers are similar, said Dan Hanthorn, who heads the wastewater program. Demand is growing.

Agricultural research of the biosolids is ongoing. Sullivan conducts research at Hyslop Farm and is looking into using biosolids for compost in urban landscapes.

"I provide guidance on nutrient management issues," Sullivan said. "I don't know if I can speak to the overall success of the program, but I can say there are many more biosolids products than 20 years ago, and they are easier to apply and manage now."

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Information from: Gazette-Times,  http://www.gtconnect.com

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