Dumped ashes from mill could be asset to farmers

Wood ash from the local mills, which could be used by farmers to improve soil quality is now being shipped by the truck load to landfill sites.
Some Rainy River area farmers are hoping to work out a deal with the mills based on the success of other cooperative partnerships in Thunder Bay and Minnesota where the ashes are being distributed to farms instead of dumps.
“We want to take it and put it to agricultural use, but there are some hurdles involved,” said Mike Neilson, the chair of the Rainy River Soil and Crop Improvement Association.
The wood ash is a product of bark and other wood scraps burnt in the drying process at lumber mills such as Voyageur Panel in Barwick. The ash contains minerals which increases plant productivity and reduces soil acidity.
Barwick farmer Lyle Wheatley is also a member of the Soil and Crop Improvement Association and is taking an interest in wood ash.
“It’s a liming agent as well as a nutrient,” he explained.
The wood ash would be an inexpensive substitute for the costly lime many farmers spread on their land.
“I would like to (use it) as long as my soil qualifies,” said Wheatley.
In the early 1990’s a study was done at the Emo research station proved that the wood ash increased crop production but only in certain types of soil.
“We established from our research trial that 6.3 or lower ph is needed to qualify. There is going to be a limited percentage of land below 6.3 (in the area),” said Guelph University’s Research Coordinator for Northern Ontario, Gord Scheifele. The benefits of wood ash were much more in more acidic soils.
“There are some perceived marginal benefits on land higher than 6.3 ph” he said.
Scheifele worked with the Thunder Bay Soil and Crop Association to work out an agreement with area mills and the Ministry of the Environment.
All the hurdles have been jumped in Thunder Bay, where farmers are now on a waiting list to receive wood ash on their property and the mill can avoid paying dumping costs.
“The guys here are very happy with the results. It’s a good deal for the mill and it’s a good deal for the farmers,” said Scheifele.
The Ministry of the Environment has appointed a member of the Soil and Crop Association to test the soil of farmers who apply for wood ash and approve those with under 6.3 percent ph.
Minnesota farmers have worked out a similar deal.
“In Thunder Bay the mill delivers the ashes to the farmer’s property and the farmer is responsible for spreading it. In Minnesota, the company found it was going to be economical and they deliver it and spread it for the farmers,” said Wheatley.
He hopes the Soil and Crop Association takes can take a serious look at working out a deal to make use of the wood ash, which can be seen in huge piles at the local landfill site.