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Regional recycling project is getting underway

July 16, 2008
By Richard Gast

Traditionally, forages and grain have been stored in buildings made of wood, steel, and/or concrete. These include cribs, tower silos, bunker silos and barns.

Lately, however, plastic film has become quite widely used to improve old and provide new storage systems for forages. And there is no doubt that the use of plastic films will continue to grow because of the flexibility of the storage and marketing options associated with plastic films.

For some time now, farmers have been storing hay crop and high-energy corn silage in bunkers, with the excess stored in piles. These storage

methods offer a relatively inexpensive approach to storing forage,

especially short-term. Piles are built either in bunkers or free-standing, and immediately covered, usually with 6 mil. black plastic, sealed tightly over the forage pile. Tires are placed on the plastic to hold it securely in place, which helps prevent spoilage from exposure to air. Some farmers are turning to plastic bagging or wrapping of round bale silage or baleage, as well, as a flexible, low-cost method for storing and preserving high-quality forage.

In recent years, more and more farms have also moved from square hay bales to large, round hay bales because of the time and labor savings

associated with them. Large round bales are now a common sight across

northern New York.

Because round bales are not nearly as suited to barn storage as square

bales, they are often stored outdoors, where exposure to weather and

water penetration can greatly reduce feed value (palatability and

digestibility). What's more, deterioration at the bottom of bales

stored on damp soil can be substantial.

More and more, farmers are turning to plastic to reduce outside storage losses. Round bales are covered with solid polyethylene sheeting or

individually wrapped. And sometimes plastic covered post and beam or frame structures are constructed as temporary storage buildings.

The use of plastics in horticulture has increased considerably in

recent years as well. North Country fruit and vegetable growers,

greenhouse managers and maple producers have all been turning to

plastics. Plastic film is used in the construction of high tunnels, low

tunnels and row covers, which are being used more frequently to

lengthen the growing season, minimize the effects of extreme weather

events on crops and improve productivity by optimizing plant growth

and development in protected environments.

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and several other vegetable crops have

shown potential for significant increases in earliness, yield and

fruit quality when grown on plastic film mulch. Drip irrigation tape

used in plasticulture of this type and in greenhouse and nursery plant

production are made of plastic, too, as are pots, planters, cell packs

and trays. The tubing used in maple sap collection is made of plastic

as well.

Unfortunately, plastic film and other agricultural plastics have no

widespread secondary on-farm use, which means that they often end up in landfills. However, landfill tipping fees can quickly add up, and some municipal landfills won't accept agricultural plastic and film waste.

So the stuff ends up buried on the farm somewhere. But burying

agricultural waste can contaminate groundwater, especially when crop

material becomes accidentally trapped in the plastic.

Which leaves burning. Unfortunately, burning any type of plastic releases toxins and potentially hazardous chemicals into the air. And trash burning of any kind is considered to be so dangerous that it is illegal to do so in any city or village in New York state or in any New York town with a population of more than 20,000 people.

What's more, discarded "ag" plastic is almost always burned in places where toxic fumes and particulates can be inhaled by humans and animals and where burning contaminates can be deposited on soil and in groundwater, and on food and forage crops as well. Unburned scraps are often left to litter the ground and all too frequently end up in rivers, lakes and streams. Larger pieces can trap water, becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes and disease.

Surveys conducted roughly a decade ago by the Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI) and the University of Vermont indicated that the majority of farmers in both states are willing to store ag plastic for recycling. They are even willing to drop it off at a recycling site, if

the site is conveniently located. But they do not want to pay to recycle.

Enter Dr. Lois Levitan, a Senior Extension Associate and Program Leader for the Environmental Risk Analysis Program at Cornell University. Dr. Levitan has spent years identifying potential avenues for creating infrastructure for the recycling of used dairy farm and nursery plastic. Now, thanks to her efforts with the Recycling Ag Plastics Project (RAPP), North Country Agri-businesses have a better option; ag plastic baling and recycling. Dr. Levitan has entered into tentative agreements with Advanced Granulating Systems Inc. (AGSI), a Minnesota-based plastic recycler, and Ultimate Recycled Plastics, a plastic recycler / manufacturer in Macedon.

Thanks to support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), a local ag plastic recycling coordinating team representing

the five counties in the Lake Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Warren and Washington) was established.

The local RAPP team has grown to include folks from Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Systems, Farmers and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

With the support of legislators, money has been committed to ag

plastics recycling in the current state budget. That money has allowed

the team to purchase a portable ag plastics baler, one of several

statewide, that is being made available without cost to local farmers

and greenhouse growers for on-farm use.

The Bigfoot Baler BF-300 is a self-contained, trailer mounted unit that produces a 40'X 40' X 40' bale weighing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds. It can generate a bale within half an hour when properly prepared. The size and weight are perfect for stacking two-wide and two-high in shipping containers or trucks.

Casella Waste Systems has agreed to store baled ag plastics for pick up

by AGSI and Ultimate Recycled Plastics at their Northern Sanitation

facility on Carbide Rd. in Plattsburgh.

Information on the Recycling Ag Plastics Project and on the BF-300 will be available at the Cornell Cooperative Extension exhibit in the 4-H building at the Franklin County Fair. The BF-300 will be on display

outside of the 4-H building on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 9 and 10. A working demonstration of the baler is being offered on the evening of Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at Malette's High View Acres in Chateaugay. Sign ups for use of the baler, which can be brought to your site for plastics baling will be taken at that time.

For more information about the baler program, please contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office. To sign up to attend the Aug. 12 demonstration, please contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 483-7403 or email me.

Demonstrations of the Bigfoot BF-300 will also be offered at Rodman Lott and Son Farms in Seneca Falls during Empire Farm Days; Aug. 5, 6 and 7.



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