Monday, November 22, 2010

The farm never sleeps

After harvest, there is a lot of clean up after the crops are removed from the fields.  What we're going to cover in this posting is dealing with crop residues.

Crop residues are a great source for organic matter that can be put back into the soil.  However, where there is continuous cropping, these residues can get in the way.  Some farmers clean the fields and heap everything where they can be composted or burned. Other farmers may simply disc the crop residues in. Either way, they must be dealt with.  In the situation where they are composted, there is an entire process and management plan spent on that.  This is where we are going to discuss an alternative to composting.  This is known as the "Bokashi Method" or the "EM® Method".  It is a relatively fast process that results in not only providing valuable organic matter to the soil, but also all the benefits of fermentation by-products (metabolites) to help grow healthy crops and maintain healthy soils on the farm.   All with significantly lower costs to the farm.

The Bokashi Methods is very similar to composting, however, there is not as much turning involved and the finished materials do not look like dirt when finished.  Because there is not much turning, the materials are pickled more than they are decomposed. Pickling is a preserving process that preserves the nutrients in the materials, leaving more nutrients available for worms and plants when applied to the soil.  The lack of turning not only saves the farmer a tremendous amount of money for fuel and labor and also benefits the environment as much less fossil fuels are burned to make the finished material. 

Materials are gathered from the fields and put into windrows (long rows, usually over 100 feet long, 4-8 feet high and 6-12 feet wide, depending on the size of the machine used to turn the materials.)  Activated EM•1® is added at a rate of 1 gallon per ton of material, molasses at the rate of 1 gallon per ton of material, and enough water to raise the moisture content to about 35%.   This solution is sprayed on the rows as the materials are being mixed to ensure complete coverage in the rows.  The final mix should be around 35% moisture for proper fermentation. (If done in the summer, the materials should be covered to avoid excessive evaporation and drying of the fermenting materials.)

The entire process takes about 4 weeks from start to finish.  The fermentation starts when the rows are left to sit for two weeks.  They are then turned once at the end of the two weeks.  Moisture is checked and more water is added if needed, still maintaining the 35% moisture.  Then are left to ferment for another two weeks.  Note that there will not be any ammonia or foul odors from the materials, even if fresh manure was used.  Following this process, there will many beneficial aerobic bacteria as well as facultative microbes that grow in the piles, including several beneficial fungi.  You now have what is known as bokashi.

From here, there are a few options.  The material can be spread on fields at a rate of 5 to 10 tons per acre.  The materials could be left to ferment longer and turned a few more times to completely break down.  Or, the materials could be inoculated with worms and turned into castings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dairy Lagoon Tests

February 9, 2008

Treating a dairy lagoon with Effective Microorganisms® (Activated EM•1).  

This 20-foot deep lagoon had built up 14 years worth of solids with 15 feet of solids and 3 feet of crust.  It is located in Southern New Mexico.

In 2006, the first attempts to remediate the problem was to institute the California BMP (Best Management Practice) of using microorganisms and aeration.  Activated EM•1® was dripped very slowly into the water, at very low rates to keep costs down (only 100 gallons per year), and 4 'Blue Frogs' were introduced.  Slowly open water began to emerge on the surface. The cost of this treatment was not low.  The microbes ran ~$200+ a month and the aerators cost ~$8,000 each and cost ~$1200 a month to run.  This did not work exceptionally well.  Therefore, the farmer decided to step up the program with the Activated EM•1® and shut off the aerators.

September 8, 2008
In February of 2008 a new program was put in place with the help of TeraGanix technical specialists.  The photos and video show the transition of the lagoon over the 8 month period.

The lagoon holds about 3.5 million gallons of dairy effluent. The new program was to put 300 gals of Ag1000™ every 2 weeks for 3 months and then 300 gallons per month thereafter.

Biological action and other changes began immediately.  The crust would sink, get
wet and then rise again. This is evident in the photos, especially during the first few months.  Colors began to change and a reduction of solids was at about one inch per month.  The surface level did not decrease as the solids became more liquid and began to expand.  A long rod was used to probe the density of the solids.  It began to go further in and released a large amount of bubbles indicating the increased biological production of gases as the solids liquefied. The lagoon also lost any objectionable odors.
After years of continued use, the chemicals used in the dairy wastewater - liquids
from the CIP (milk tank cleaning) process and other sources (footbaths etc.) – had
the effect of shutting down the microbial activity which should reduce the solids
(cellulose and lignins).  Logically, since this is a common problem in all diary lagoons, lagoons using similar BMPs will likely begin to build solids and will eventually need pumping or dredging.
Activated EM•1® dditional natural microorganisms that dramatically increase digestion of solids and control of wastewater odorAfter the first three months the amount of Activated EM•1® at each treatment was reduced to 300 gallons per month.  The following pictures represent the evolution of recovering the lagoon from April 2006-September 2008.

By August 25, 2008 the colors were getting vibrant with lots of off gassing.  The red/crimson colors are an indication of a major photosynthetic bacteria bloom.

There is almost no odor and the entire lagoon is full of bubbles and bottom turnover (gases raising large chunks of bottom to the surface). The bottom is becoming very soft as the solids are being loosened and reduced. The many types of algae seem to indicate that there is sufficient oxygen (low BOD) and the lagoon appears to have become self-regulating (maintaining a balance of needed aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Try some Vino

 On a little less than 200 acres in Lourdsburg, New Mexico, St Clair Winery grows its estate wines.    St Clair is the largest winery in New Mexico and sells their wines in over 5 states.  They buy grapes from several growers in the area and bottle over 60 different labels, most are blends of several varieties.  They specialize in wines that range in price from $10-$20 per bottle including whites, reds, and bubbly.  They do also make a few ports (I haven't tried those yet!). 

St Clair has finished up their second full growing season with using Effective Microorganisms® in their program.  Despite a wet winter with lots of frost and a late frost in early May, they were able to produce a good crop.  Harvest was completed some time in October.  Some time in early 2011 we should start seeing the 2010 wines ready for sale.

Many markets in the Southwest carry their wines.  If you see a Sunflower Market, try their Cab-Zin.  It is a very palatable wine that goes great with meats and cheese. 

Lescombes Estate and St. Clair wines
If you are driving through New Mexico, be sure to stop by the winery in Deming.  They have a tasting bar where you can sample pretty much every wine they make.  There are a couple estate wines, under the Lescombes label that are from the vineyard in Lourdsburg.  This way you know they were grown with an EM® program.  The 2009 Verdot was recently released.  They also have a Petite Syrah and Syrah from the same vineyard.  Pick up a couple of these and give them a try!

Friday, November 12, 2010

We've been workin' on the dairy...

Dairies can be all sizes, shapes and forms.  If you're like me, you usually think of the Northern part of the United States when you think of dairies.  However, New Mexico is number 7 in the USA in terms of milk production.  New Mexico and 9 other states account for 71% of milk produced in the US according to a 2005 report from New Mexico State University.

With all those animals, it takes a tremendous amount of inputs and resources to manage them properly.  Our photo on the top is a large dairy that has about 20,000 animals, with about 16,000 of them being milked on a daily basis.  There are 4 other dairies nearby, but this is by far the largest in this area.

We are working with the dairy on a couple areas.  They have several thousand acres where they grow some of the feed needed for the animals.  These crops include alfalfa, milo, and triticale.  The soils in Southern New Mexico are very salty and rocky in this particular area (between Hatch and Deming).  We are injecting Activated EM•1® in all their fields, starting now.  Over the course of the winter, we should start to see some major improvements in the ground.

October 7, 2010
Of major interest on any dairy is how to get rid of all the waste.  I've included several photos the lagoons we are now treating.  The first lagoon (primary lagoon) receives all of the liquid wastes from the 8 milking areas (parlors).  The waste flows from the primary into a secondary lagoon (there are 4 other secondary lagoons and one that is not in use at this time).  Some of the water from the secondary lagoon is used to flow areas in the buildings and flows back into the primary lagoon. 

October 28th, 2010
The second picture above is of the primary lagoon.  These lagoons are massive!  They are about 25-30 feet deep with about 5 acres of surface are (325Kx5x25=40.6 Million Gallons each).  The primary lagoon is a mass of solids.  As you can see from our first set of photos taken in early October 2010, there does not seem to be any water on the surface...except at the inlet (picture 3).  This was taken 3 weeks into treatment.  It is generally thought that it is good to have a crust on the lagoons to keep the odors under cover.  So, this is not too unusual of a sight on a lagoon.

Here is a shot of the secondary lagoon in early October 2010.  The water is brown with a little red/purple color to it, which does not show up too well in the pictures.
Just to give some perspective, this is what an empty lagoon looks like.  This one is directly to the South of the Primary lagoon.  On the upper left, you can see the influent pipe.  It is about 15 feet above the ground.

October 28th, 2010.  We're starting to see some action on the surface of the primary lagoon.  Liquid is bubbling up.  We all took note that there was no noticeable odors around the lagoons in spite of more liquids.  Additionally, the volume of material above the level line has decreased by about 50%.  This means the material below is digesting at a very fast pace.
More liquid is visible on the surface in other areas around the primary lagoon.
Be on the lookout for more updates as we continue to treat this dairy lagoon in Southern New Mexico.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mountains of manure

It is amazing to drive by a large feed lot or a dairy and see a mountain of manure.  The manure is mounded up year after year, just left to mound up higher and higher.  Many of the farms in the surrounding area do not want to use the manure because of fear of increased salts.  Another reason is limitations from regulations that require a certain amount of time between using the manure and planting in it if the manure is not composted.

Of course, we've got a solution.  Composting on this scale requires machinery, labor and fuel.  Space is another great concern.  It requires lots of it.  TeraGanix is working with some local farms in the Southwest where organic matter in soil is usually less than 1%.  In order to get the organic matter up, one needs to apply quite a bit of material.  The growers we work with are very progressive in their growing programs and are very conscious of the fact that they need to increase organic matter to improve their crop production and decrease their input costs.  They follow a very rigid crop rotation program, have switched the much more efficient sub-surface irrigation, and practice minimum till.  These are conventional farmers, not organic farmers, and they do not use GMO crops either. 

In our pictures here, the turner is being used to process about 1,500 tons of dairy manure into EM® Bokashi, a slow release fertilizer for farms in the Southwest United States.

After their first applications of Activated EM•1®, these farmers were quick to notice that the normal salt rings around the water spots did not form.  Taking that into consideration, they thought about the vast amounts of manure not being put to good use that has been heaped up for years at the nearby dairies.  Add a little Activated EM•1® and you've got a great source of organic matter without the worry of salts.  After a couple trials, they decided to get a real turner and starting prepping up thousands of tons of material.  Since we're using EM•1® in the piles, the material will be ready in only 4 weeks with only one turn.  All the NH3 will be converted to NH4 (ammonium), a slow release fertilizer that will not burn plants or have any foul odors.  The pathogens will also be controlled, as have been tested multiple times.  Fields that are in the rotation will have up to 10 tons of material per acre applied.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Consistency in crops

Can you see a difference between these two fields of wheat? When you work the soil with Effective Microorganisms®, you are ensuring all of your crops get the nutrients they need. This obviously has an impact on crop production.
With EM•1®
Without EM•1®
The two fields in these pictures were planted directly across the street from each other.  The top picture was previously planted in chili peppers and given a high dose of Activated EM•1®.  We actually treated the peppers with about 80 gallons per acre.  When it came time to grow the wheat, the fields were only treated with an additional 10 gallons per acre.  The field across the street did not have any EM•1® applied to the fields.  Both fields had the same plant nutrient program, are irrigated from the same well, and are in the same crop rotation program.

The farmer was convinced he was going to put some EM•1® microbial inoculant on ALL of his fields, regardless of the crop.  He is following with his crop rotation program, going heavy with EM•1® applications during his high-dollar crop cycle and continuing with a lower dose during the lower cash cash crop.