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Spring 2001

 

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A truck dumps its 20-ton load of fruit slurry at Pacific Coast Producers in Oroville.
 
 
  Lal Singh and Steve McDonald are experimenting with composting fruit solids in a plastic "ag bag."

Disposing of industrial waste is a problem that continues to challenge many companies. CSU, Chico agriculture professor Lal Singh has worked with Pacific Coast Producers (a grower's cooperative based in Lodi, with a canning plant in Oroville) for 12 years to find ways to use cannery waste and wastewater—with impressive results.

Singh has been able to increase his research in the last year with resources provided by the state-funded Agricultural Initiative. He is the principal investigator, with agriculture professor Mitch Johns as co-investigator, on several projects to improve marginal soils, grow crops, and develop marshland to attract wildlife using the canning waste products.

The Pacific Coast Producers (PCP) cannery in Oroville, which employs 3,000 workers, processes peaches, pears, and grapes, and produces about 70 tons of waste every day. The canning also produces more than a million gallons of wastewater every day. The solid and liquid waste poses a huge problem to the food processing industry in the form of groundwater contamination, foul odor, and fly breeding, says Singh.

"PCP tried everything—they tried to feed waste to livestock, they tried to sell it, they tried to used it for a garden additive—and nothing worked," says Singh.

PCP owns 800 acres of land outside Oroville where the waste is transported and where Singh and Johns, with the help of PCP ranch manager Steve McDonald, carry out the projects. The results of the efforts since 1986 have turned star-thistle-riddled land into productive farmland, a wildlife habitat, and a model of industrial waste management.

The researchers are experimenting with composting fruit solids with rye grass grown on the ranch, fruit solids with rice hulls, and fruit solids with straw. Different mixtures of the waste products have been placed in separate sections of a heavy plastic "ag bag" 150 feet long, and air is pumped down the center of the bag to help break down the straw. The rye grass and fruit solid portions broke down three months into the experiment, and the bacteria began making its way to the section of the bag with the rice hulls and straw. The investigators are still waiting to see if the hulls and straw will compost. "If the rice hulls and straw break down, it will be a boon to the rice industry, as they are always looking for ways to break down rice straw without burning," remarks Singh.

Another of Singh's objectives was figuring out what to do with the wastewater. "The wastewater problem at PCP had to be solved if the cannery were to continue operating," says Singh. "The challenge was how to do that without polluting nearby streams. So we are using it to irrigate crops." The water is pumped through a seven-mile pipeline to a pond at the ranch and, from there, to a sprinkler system and onto a variety of crops: milo, safflower, beans, alfalfa, corn, barley, and cotton. "We found that we got as much as three bales of cotton to the acre using cannery water—a very good yield for such poor soil," notes Singh.

Another use for the water is to create marshland. "We will filter the water through the marshes and see if we can come up with a clean, neutral water," explains Singh. The series of marsh ponds, planted with cattails and other valley marsh vegetation, will serve as wildlife habitat, attracting deer, beaver, and a variety of birds.

     
   



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