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The agricultural news source in British Columbia since 1915
Vol.102 Issue 11
Making a case for biosolids on interior ranches [Tom Walker]
CLINTON – Stepping out of the truck, I think to myself that these south Cariboo grasslands don’t look very grassy. Parched, crumbly soil shows between small clumps of grass that are barely as high as my hiking boots. I’m not looking at the towering bunch grass I remember 40 years ago as I headed south from Kamloops through Knutsford on my first trip to Merritt.
It isn’t from lack of rainfall. Area ranchers I’m talking to tell me it’s been one of the wettest summers they can recall. Indeed, about 30 meters away, the grass is thick and green, not quite the “belly high to a horse” of legends, but perhaps knee high and high enough that it’s falling over in the late September sunshine. There is a thick thatch layer, native grasses crowd out the weeds, and the soil is dark and rich-
Same land, same rainfall. What’s the difference? The lush green patch is a demonstration plot that has been treated with biosolids from the Lower Mainland.
Lawrence Joiner speaks in a soft tone as he describes the soil on his 5,000-
“When the ministry range agrologist tested it, the results came back: no nitrogen, no organic matter,” says Joiner as he addresses a tour of his OK Ranch restoration project. “I came up from the coast so I was used to putting chicken manure on the grass to make it grow.”
He says he tried chicken manure and cow manure and chemical fertilizers but nothing helped.
“Let it rest, said the agrologist, and I did,” says Joiner. “But it didn’t improve.”
“You can think of the soil as a bank,” explains John Lavery, an agrologist and biologist who works with SYLVIS Environmental. “At some point, the bank became over drawn.”
There’s talk of over-
Looks like compost
An hour later, I’m standing next to a 2,000-
Lavery grabs a handful and it clumps together like damp dirt. He explains this pile has been here for perhaps two days. A manure spreader works the nearby grasslands in a manner that is practiced in hundreds of locations in countries around the world.
“Scandinavia, Europe, South America, the United States ...” Lavery rattles off a list.
The team at SYLVIS have contracts with several BC municipalities to manage roughly 25,000 wet tonnes per year at the OK Ranch. That will cover between 300 and 500 hectares of
Joiner’s land a year. The rest goes over to Alberta.
Joiner says the effect of the first test applications in the early 2000’s was “immediate.” The steers that grazed on test plots were up to 150 lbs heavier than their range-
The treated land greens up earlier in the spring, fades later in the fall and the taller grass is easier for the cattle to graze through light snow. Joiner says his animals can stay at least a month longer on pasture and that means a month less of buying hay.
“This is such a valuable resource,” says Joiner.
The last stop on the tour is to view a test plot that had one application of biosolids in 2002 when the project first started. Half of the fenced-