Local farmers making use of water plant byproduct
Employees of the Fairfield water department have learned a new skill this holiday season — how to operate an excavator to extract 4,225 tons of agricultural lime from a lagoon to haul to neighboring farmers for their fields.
The substance is a result of sedimentation from the department’s lime softening plant, creating a calcium-rich, alkaline byproduct. For the past two decades, water department superintendent Carl Chandler has hired a contractor to dig up the aglime and find a farm to transport it to. This year, however, he began a do-it-yourself experiment in hopes of reducing costs.
“We’re kind of winging it,” said Chandler. “I was extremely pleased by everyone’s cooperation.”
Water plant employee Scott Worley did most of the digging, and Chandler visited nearby farms to see if they had use for the aglime on their fields. He found six farmers willing to take it.
Chandler said the department spends roughly $100,000 every two years to have the sludge removed. While he hasn’t tallied all of the bills for equipment rental and man-hours, he expects the job to cost substantially less this year.
When Chandler had the substance tested in a lab a couple of years ago, he found it to be comparable to aglime farmers purchase from rock quarries.
“It’s good aglime, it’s just not marketed,” he said.
Chandler, who has been at the plant since 1983, said staff used to allow the aglime to run off into Crow Creek until the Iowa Department of Natural Resources mandated storing the byproduct in sludge lagoons. Once built, when the lagoon filled every few years, the water department had to find ways to dispose of the lime sediment. In the early 1990s, staff began having the product hauled to nearby farmers.
This year, Tim Tedrow of Grassland Farms south of Fairfield took truckload upon truckload of the product.
It’s the first year Tedrow has partnered with the water plant, although he’s used processed sludge from the wastewater plant on his fields for years.
“I have a good working relationship with the city of Fairfield,” he said.
He’s used aglime for years on his cornfields, hayfields and on pasture for his cows.
“You put it on your pasture, and it will sweeten the grass up for the cattle,” he said.
While he said he won’t be able to judge the product’s effectiveness until spring, he believed it was superior to quarry aglime.
“I’ve heard it’s faster activating than regular aglime from a rock quarry,” said Tedrow. “It’s higher in calcium and keeps the pH in balance in your fields.”
The aglime sludge is free, and the water department trucks it to the property of the farmers who agree to take it. But there is a catch, said Tedrow. The aglime does not come in its usual, easy-to-apply powder form.
“It’s like a paste or Jell-O,” said Tedrow. “You can’t just use a regular spreader with it.”
Instead, Tedrow used a slurry spreader to apply it to his fields. The consistency, said Tedrow, cost him “extra time and labor.”
Several Amish farmers who use the product leave it in piles to dry during the winter, said Chandler. While he acknowledges the inconvenience of the paste, Chandler said he hopes demand for the product grows in the coming years.
“I’d like to see more people come use it and recycle it and see what kind of good they can derive from it,” said Chandler.
Due to the project’s success, Chandler said the department will empty the lagoon in-house from here on out.
“We’ll keep spreading the word, it is good product and its free,” he said. “I hope in the future more people will be standing in line to use it.”