ReEnergy Stratton began a new program in July 2020 to market its wood ash to farmers, providing an affordable and nutritious natural fertilizer substitute to 65 Maine farms.
The Stratton facility creates 60-90 tons per day of wood ash, also known as “fly ash,” a fine material that is collected out of the back end of the boiler and conditioned with water (the facility’s heavier bottom ash is collected at the front of the boiler and is used as a gravel substitute). Wood ash is produced from the combustion of clean wood and bark and can be used as agricultural soil amendment for balancing soil pH and enhancing nutrient levels.
From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, Maine Environmental LLC has distributed all of ReEnergy Stratton’s wood ash – more than 10,000 tons – to 65 Maine family farms that cultivate 2,500 acres of farmland. Maine Environmental is a third-generation, family-owned beneficial reuse company that has developed and successfully maintained an extensive agricultural land base throughout Maine with more than 50 years’ experience in land-applying commercial lime/fertilizers and more than 30 years’ experience with wood ash, lime mud and short paper fiber. ReEnergy has been partnering with Maine Environmental since 2015.
“The ash is a liming substitute and has micronutrients that contribute to soil health,” said Shannon Giles, president of Maine Environmental Services. Giles said that many of the farms are multigenerational, with some of them run by 7th or 8th-generation Mainers. He said 80% of the farms using the ash from Stratton are dairy farms, with 70% of those dairy farms being certified organic. The remainder of the farms using the ash are livestock and grass/grain farms.
In 2021, the ReEnergy Stratton facility is likely to produce 16,000 tons of wood ash, and that ash is expected to be used on more than 100 farms that cultivate more than 5,000 acres of land.
Stratton’s wood ash has met strict organic standards by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Lab tests indicate that it is rich in magnesium, soluble potash and phosphoric acid. Giles said that three tons of wood ash is equivalent to the liming value of one ton of commercial lime and provides significant amounts of micronutrients that are critical to crop growth and soil health.
Without access to this ash, farmers are left to procure fertilizer from out of state sources. To procure comparable nutrients, the farms would need to purchase fertilizer or lime from outside of the state of Maine. Giles said some farms were buying imported fertilizers in the past, while others were left using manure.
Organic farms are required to use natural fertilizers. Without access to the ash from ReEnergy Stratton, such natural fertilizer costs much more and is difficult to find. “It would be more than double the cost of what they are paying now,” Giles said. “For organic farms, it’s a game changer to have access to this product. By the time they import a comparable product, it is cost-prohibitive.”
Giles estimates that Maine farms have saved approximately $100,000 in the first six months of the Stratton ash program when compared to other sources of fertilizers.
Michael Brown, the owner of Meadowbrook Farms in China, ME and the regional coordinator for Organic Valley Milk, is one of the users of the ash. “I enthusiastically endorse wood ash product from Maine Environmental because I have seen the benefits of wood ash, both personally and professionally,” he said. “I have successfully used wood ash product on my organic farm that produces beef and hay. I have also seen many of the organic dairy farmers I work with benefit from the product.”
The ash from ReEnergy Stratton is 40% biochar, which is considered to be particularly strong in micronutrients and contributes to soil health and fertility. Giles said that scientific evidence is growing that biochar provides climate change benefits by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — known as “negative emissions” — because it sequesters carbon.