URBAN COMPOST BOOSTS ALBERTA CROPS
BY LEE HART
Farmers Brian and Carmen Sewell are hoping that a new fertilizer derived from urban food waste will not only boost their crops, but also benefit the environment.
The Sewells, who farm near Blackie, just south of Calgary, are applying a blend of compost and sulphur to their fields. Produced by Calgary-based Bio-
Cycle Solutions, Bio-Sul Premium Plus is composed of 70 per cent elemental sulphur—which plants require for healthy growth—and 30 per cent compost. A byproduct of natural gas processing, the sulphur is blended with composted food waste from food-service businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants and hotels.
Bio-Cycle account manager Dax Sharkey said studies indicate about $31 billion worth of food ends up as waste annually in Canada, or about 30 per cent of the nation’s food. As such, the company has no difficulty finding raw material. With collection facilities in Calgary and Regina, it picks up about 70 tonnes of food waste per day from grocery stores, restaurants and malls. Packaging and other contaminants are sorted out, leaving organic materials that are piled and turned (aerated) for several weeks to produce high-quality, organic compost.
In operation for about five years, the company supplies its sulphur-compost blend to farmers across Western Canada. Farmers either apply it to their fields themselves or opt to have the product spread by Bio-Cycle or contracted applicators.
Growing about 4,000 acres of grains, oilseeds and pulse crops, the Sewells applied it to about 1,400 acres in the winter of 2017/18. They plan to use it on the balance of their land over the next couple of years.
While the compost portion of Bio-Sul provides additional nutrients, it also increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. This provides the soil with fibrous structure that acts as a reservoir for water and nutrients, and aids in reducing compaction and surface crusting. “Our soil has pretty good organic matter content, but you can never have too much,” said Brian.
The fertilizer’s sulphur content is composed of various-sized particles. The finer ones are readily available to plants during the first growing season after application, while larger particles break down in the soil over the following years. One application is expected to meet the sulphur requirements of the Sewells’ crops for about four years. Brian said it is a cost-competitive source of sulphur, although farmers have to be prepared to make the initial investment.
“Of course, we’re also interested in improving crop yields and quality,” said Brian. “Peas, for example, have a fairly high requirement for sulphur, so we are anxious to see how our yellow peas perform this year.” With extremely dry, poor growing conditions in their area in 2017, he said it was difficult to judge whether the fertilizer helped since all crop yields were below average.
“Sulphur deficiencies can have a major impact on crop yield,” said Cynthia Grant, soil fertility specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explaining that it also affects the quality of crops. For instance, it helps give wheat the protein levels that produce high-
quality baking flour.
Carmen added that she’s impressed with the social and environmental benefits the fertilizer represents. “I like the idea that this company is making use of food waste. It’s not just going into landfill, it’s being used to benefit crop production. And it is an all-natural product. If it will improve our soil and plant health, and it benefits the environment with this excess waste being turned into a nutrient to help produce better-quality food, that is a win-win.”
For more information on Bio-Sol Premium Plus, visit www.bio-cycle.ca.