Farmers must look for solutions to waste disposal

Dealing with agricultural waste is a vexing problem, one that has been aggravated with modern practices. 


What do you do with treated seed? Inevitably there’s a bit left over from each crop. You seldom have exactly enough treated to match the acres. 


Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s just a bushel or two of overage. More likely you have much more than that. No one wants to be short, so you tend to overshoot. 


A much higher percentage of seed is being treated, so the problem is growing. If you put treated seed in a bin and keep it until next spring, there’s a risk of contaminating the bin. 


Ideally, we should all have dedicated storage and augers for treated seed. Mistakes can be costly if grain becomes contaminated. There’s a zero tolerance for treated seed going to terminals, and rightly so.


Beyond the contamination issue, do you really want a small amount of treated seed tying up an entire bin? Mini bulk bags can be an option if you have a place to store them. 


However, will you be seeding the same variety next year and will germination be maintained until the following year?


That’s why treated seed is often discarded. Unfortunately, most of the recommended disposal methods are impractical, so producers have little clear direction on how to proceed.


Beyond the environmental concern, discarding treated seed is a major cost. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to connect with another producer to even give it away. 


That’s also the case with leftover pulse crop inoculant. You never want to run short. You may be left scrambling to find additional product, but it’s tough to exactly gauge metering rates onto the seed. 


Of course, if you have unused inoculant at the end of the season, it has no value for anyone. The rhizobium bacteria will not live until another year. 


In this case, it isn’t a hazardous product like treated seed, but it does represent a monetary loss because you can seldom return inoculant to the input supplier even if the boxes are unopened. 


An issue no one likes to talk about is spray tank leftovers. There’s seldom exactly the right amount to finish a job, so you’re left with five or 20 or maybe 50 gallons that have to be dumped. 


On top of that, you need to flush out the sprayer before adding the next product, perhaps multiple times with the addition of a cleansing product. 


The best you can do is to pick a spot where the chemical and rinsate will have minimal impact, but it isn’t pleasant to see puddles on the ground. 


If you make a mistake with a chemical mix and end up with a tank full of jelly, you’ve got a major clean-out and disposal issue.


As an industry, we are doing a good job of recycling chemical containers. Years ago, you would often see empty chemical jugs and pails lying around farmyards and field edges. Now, they’re largely being rinsed and re-turned to the input suppliers. Plus, many of the larger containers are returned for a sizable deposit. 


Most farms have a storage tank for waste oil, although the integrity of the vessel may leave something to be desired.


Recycling programs are being initiated with the explosion in grain bag use, but there’s still more work to do.


By being good stewards and addressing disposal issues as an industry, perhaps we can forestall the heavy hand of government regulation.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.