Once maligned as a useless toxic waste, the list of proven uses for Domtar's treated pulp mill residue continues to grow.
Not only does Domtar soil conditioner generally enhance farm field productivity and appear to be beneficial as a feed supplement, now it's been shown to put a better bloom on strawberries.
Meanwhile, separate trials completed last fall at the Winchester Agronomy Research Station have shown the conditioner can replace artificial fertilizer in commercial corn production.
The conditioner can be used to boost both yield and size of strawberries, regional growers learned at Kemptville College of Agricultural Technology during a recent Information Day.
Impressive results from strawberry trials conducted at KCAT were released during the meeting which attracted about 30 people, most of them members of the Eastern Ontario Berry Growers Association (EOBGA).
A paper delivered by the college's John Madill recommended an application of 25 dry tonnes of Domtar conditioner per hectare as an effective means of supplying the initial requirement of nitrogen when establishing strawberries, particularly in sandy soil where organic content is low. Tissue analysis indicated that fertility requirements for nitrogen weren't adequate to carry beyond the establishment year and normal rates should be applied in subsequent years.
Analysis of pathogens indicated no detectable salmonella or fecal coliforms so that consumption of fruit grown in conditioner should not present a health risk. Madill explained that, while pathogens are present in the raw product, they dissipate during the growing process.
Funded by Domtar, the strawberry trials add another level of credibility to the waste product which currently can only be spread under an MOE Certificate of Approval for each farm. The new approach to disposing of the spongy, cellulose material, which was once dumped into the St. Lawrence Seaway, has won several environmental awards for the company.
There are now 34 licensed agricultural spreading sites covering a total of 5980 Eastern Ontario acres, and a waiting list of farmers who want to be included in the program. Domtar has been distributing it free of charge but is now considering a trucking fee.
Over two years of tissue and soil sampling at KCAT using Veestar strawberries, Ontario's most popular variety, four plots in a former potato field were monitored: one had nothing added to it, one had the standard rate of nitrogen added, one had 25 tonnes of Domtar conditioner divided into fall and spring applications, and one had 50 tonnes in two applications. While 50 tonnes had the most beneficial effects, that application supplied more than the recommended level of nitrogen.
The 25-tonne treatment resulted in twice as much yield as either no treatment or standard nitrogen; impressive gains in fruit size were also realized. Runnering was improved with soil conditioner at the 25-tonne level and most evidently at the 50-tonne level. The increased yield at 50 tonnes can at least in part be attributed to an increase in organic matter.
Upon assessing the conditioner results, EOBGA president Robert Dentz, who grows 12-acres of strawberries north of Brockville, said he'd like to give the product a try. However, he suspected that because of his relatively small size, it might be difficult to get Domtar to deliver to his operation.
Dentz was re-elected president of the 45-member association at its Kemtpville meeting. Wayne Avery ws named vice-president, Paul Henrie was chosen secretary and treasurer for the coming year will be Claudia Rofner.