CSU, Chico

Improving Air & Water Quality Through Composting of Agricultural Waste Products

Improving Air & Water Quality Through Composting of Agricultural Waste Products

California Air Resources Board Final Report

Introduction

Beef Unit studentsAgriculture produces vast quantities of food and fiber for the ever-growing world population. While our society enjoys a rich diversity of produce and food products, consumers are also very concerned about how that food and fiber is produced. Indeed, air and water quality issues have been at the forefront of major legislative measures including the Connelly-Areias-Chandler Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act of 1991 and the Non-point Source Water Pollution Control measures proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Methods to handle crop residues and waste products present a unique challenge from an ecological and economical perspective. The burning of rice straw prevented the spread of stem rot and rice blast into the next season, enhanced soil fertility (ash rich in phosphorus) and was extremely economical (cost of a match). However, increases in particulate matter (smoke and ash) in the air created serious problems between rural farmers and urban residents of neighboring cities and towns. Since the enactment of the Burn-Down Act, producers have experimented with other methods of handling rice straw removal including baling, which removes the soil nutrients, and direct soil incorporation which unfortunately promotes disease and may actually damage the soil profile due to poor breakdown of straw residue.

Plant Science Club FundraiserEqually difficult is the issue of livestock waste management. Current methods designed to prevent groundwater contamination are very costly, preventing many small family farmers from compliance based on economic factors alone. These small farmers simply do not have the capital to invest in these expensive systems. Cost effective management strategies that promote sustainability are clearly needed or small family farmers will be forced out of production based on the inability to comply with EPA regulations.

The proposed project is a one-year pilot study to determine the feasibility of a new waste management strategy that will address both air and water quality issues related to crop residue and animal waste. We propose to develop an inexpensive composting process utilizing rice straw, crop residues and animal waste in an innovative "in-vessel' composting process called the EcoPOD developed by Ag-bag Environmental, Inc. A process that is relatively easy, inexpensive, and produces a useable product from troublesome waste products.

Beef Unit studentsThe Agriculture Teaching and Research Center (ATRC) at California State University, Chico, provides the ideal site to test this process with California-based crop wastes. Straw is abundant in the Sacramento Valley with nearly 500,000 acres of rice grown annually. Likewise, in 2001 California was home to 610,000 dairy cows each producing 115 pounds of manure per day. The ATRC will provide an excellent location for producer groups to gather and examine this new technique as we study the biological and economic feasibility of this environmentally safe composting process.