DEC Aids Farms Through Waste Guidelines

Judy Drabicki

Farms play a critical role in the north country’s economy and many of our farmers are following in the footsteps of generations before them.

                Although science and technology are the underpinning of farming today, the agriculture industry also relies on trial and error, gut-instinct, and weather. According to local agriculture expert Jay Matteson, our cool climate is well suited for dairy, cold hardy grapes, soybeans, corn, wheat, alfalfa, grasses, and many other crops and livestock. While the north country has a wide variety of soils ranging from well-drained loams to poorly drained clays, our farmers excel at managing soil resources.

                The farming industry is guided by sustainability and efficiency. Understanding that well-balanced soil creates stronger crops and healthier livestock, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) works closely with local farmers to issue land application permits to spread non-recognizable food processing (NRFP) waste on their fields. This organic waste contains valuable nutrients – especially nitrogen and phosphorous – and land spreading delivers these nutrients directly to the soil. This is a beneficial alternative to purchasing expensive commercial fertilizers and not unlike the time-tested practice of spreading manure on a field. NRFP works well on any soil and is easily applied in the same manner as manure. In addition to the nutrient value, NRFP waste also furnishes organic matter that, when added to fine-textured soils like clays makes the soils looser and increases the amount of pore space available for root growth. Additionally, in coarser, sandy soils, this organic matter can improve the ability of the soils to retain water.

                There are a few farms in our area already spreading NRFP waste on their fields. These farms have collaborated with local dairy product manufacturers to acquire and transport NRFP waste. DEC provides strict oversight of the application of this waste under regulations designed to establish criteria based upon the potential environmental and human health risks involved and protect against nuisances and other possible ill effects of the land application process.

                At its Lafargeville plant, H.P. Hood produces cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. Food production at H.P. Hood also creates waste. This waste is run through another process that prepares it for spreading on the fields as NRFP.

                 H.P. Hood has been a registered land application facility since 2003, when the registration requirements first went into effect. Since 2012, it has been applying an average of 800,000 to two million gallons of NRFP waste annually at BJ Farms, also in Lafargeville. BJ Farms is a 130-acre farm that grows field crops, such as hay. The soil in the fields is tested to make sure the nutrient loading rates are accurate for the crop. The amount of nutrient applied cannot exceed the needs of the crop. 

                Not only is it valuable to the soil, transferring organic waste from large manufacturers to fields means less waste is sent to our landfills, which benefits all of us. Keeping waste out of landfills is known as “diversion,” where waste is diverted to another use such as land spreading or recycling discarded items instead of disposing of them. Diversion is an important goal for communities and landfill operators. Landfilling is expensive and costs are passed on to communities by way of tipping fees to everyone who generates waste. Because we all generate waste, we all share the burden of paying for landfill operations. 

                Diversion is proactive solid waste management, and in the case of land spreading, a benefit to agriculture.

                Eligible land application facilities benefit both our shared environment and the economy when operated in compliance with regulations and basic criteria.