Wood ash may soon be applied to district soil

Someone’s trash may very well be someone else’s treasure.
Paul Montain, with Mountain Environmental in Minnesota, explained just that at the Emo Agricultural Research Station’s open house late last month. He noted that the excess wood ash from the Boise Cascade mill might be beneficial to farm land in the Rainy River District.
“We’ve spread on 2,500 acres a year on the Minnesota side and we’re looking for other places to use it,” he noted on July 25, citing the wood ash can be useful in raising soil pH and as a potassium source.
“It’s a cost effective way of using the materials,” Montain added.
Gary Sliworsky, local agriculture representative from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, explained Montain’s company was already delivering south of the mill within an economically reasonable distance.
“And here was this whole untapped area north of the border, so it made sense for him to try and get it on these closer acres, than traveling further and further away from the mill in the states,” Sliworsky noted last week.
Montain indicated there is some interest by area farmers to try the application of wood ash. He hopes to start hauling the material to Emo resident, Fred Klug, by mid-August.
“If it’s doable, it would be sometime this coming month,” Klug expressed. “I certainly don’t want it any later than that. You can’t incorporate it into the soil properly.”
Klug, who recalled seeing the method in a agricultural magazine, is trying to raise the lime level on a piece of his mother’s property on Off Lake Road.
“I’m only experimenting with it—it may not work,” he reasoned. “I thought I would just do a small chunk and experiment with it. But this could be a new, ground-breaking thing.”
But all three parties noted there is a lot of “red tape” in getting the permission to go ahead with the application.
“There’s a Biosolids Utilization Committee that looks at all [the factors] and then the Ministry of the Environment,” Sliworsky explained. “The agricultural part of it is minor. We’re okaying or recommending the amount that gets put on, but these other guys are the ones who decided whether or not it was going to be allowed to be spread on farm land.”
He indicated it had been looked at it a few years ago for this area, but given problems in getting the certificates of approval from the Ministry of the Environment, it just didn’t go forward.
But there is quite a bit of interest in the wood ash now.
Sliworsky noted he has a list of about 10 names.
“I’ve just had someone else call me with their soil tests and they’re eligible and interested,” he said. “I don’t know how well it’ll get taken up, but there’s definitely people interested in it.”
To be eligible the property has to have a pH below 6.5 and has to show that there is a requirement for potassium. And to determine that, a soil test needs to be done.
“It needs to show me the pH level is less than 6.5 or that they can use it as a potassium fertilizer,” indicated Sliworsky. “That’s the first step. After that, it’s very easy. If they have that, I just need a lot and concession description of where the property is and to take a look at it to make sure it’s not on the side of a hill sloping into the river or something like that.
“The information goes to the MOE and a certificate of approval is issued. Then they’d be able to have it applied to their land,” he added.
Montain explained that at this point, the wood ash is free. But if the demand increases, he may look to have the farmers pay to have it cross the border.
“If it makes a difference on their land and it costs them little or nothing, it should be a win-win situation,” noted research station technician, Kim Jo Bliss, who mentioned there are issues to consider.
“Like the heavy metal issue, but MOE is involved. You can’t just do this without a whole bunch of red tape,” she stressed. “Hopefully everything is covered and it’s completely safe.”
Bliss explained the research station conducted research with wood ash in the early 90’s, but their pH levels were about 6.5, so they showed very little, if any, results.
“Not because there is not potential for it, but because it wasn’t needed,” she added.
Montain, while dismissing any cause of potential danger, did note the only downside to the wood ash could be the “nuisance factors”—noise, dust, truck traffic, and odour.
But he assured the benefits outweighed the nuisances. Montain added it takes about eight tons of wood ash per acre, so there would be several truck loads of materials coming across the border.
And while it’s taken nearly two years to get all the approvals, he stressed the process is safe and everything has been taken care of on his end.
Sliworsky isn’t sure how the wood ash will favour in the Rainy River District.
“It’s a good source of lime and a potassium fertilizer if you need it and it also helps the mill to get rid of a product that has benefit for farmers,” he voiced. “But it just depends on the demand for it. Maybe once people see it coming across, actually being applied and being used by their neighbours, maybe they’ll jump on the band wagon.”