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Agricultural Research Service

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A Little Cement to Help the Corn Grow--and the Landfill Shrink

By Don Comis
April 28, 1998

When cement trucks are hosed down, the rinsed-off cement particles may make a perfect liming material to improve farm and garden soil. Agricultural Research Service scientists say the particles are soil-friendly because they’re alkaline and loaded with calcium silicates.

Leftover cement and other industrial byproducts that do not have a negative effect on the environment or public health could find a home in sustainable farming practices while solving many disposal problems, according to a new ARS publication, Agricultural Uses of Municipal, Animal, and Industrial Byproducts.

The 127-page publication is intended for scientists and administrators in research, education and industry and for policymakers. It’s a unique compilation about diverse byproducts--including, for example, manures from all types of livestock, from cattle to mink.

ARS hopes the book will foster more farm-urban partnerships to apply innovative, scientifically sound approaches for solving byproduct disposal problems.

The amount of waste byproducts in the United States is increasing and will exceed a billion tons this year. Meanwhile, there are about 5,000 fewer landfills today than 10 years ago.

In one ARS study cited in the book, scientists applied cement particles at rates as high as 100 tons per acre to grow corn, soybeans and wheat. Ronald F. Korcak of ARS’ Plant Sciences Institute in Beltsville, Md., led the study, which is continuing.

In addition to manures, Korcak and colleagues experiment with other byproducts as compost ingredients for growing crops. These include coal ash from power plants, rock dust from stone- crushing operations, yard waste, municipal garbage, crab shells, claws and other body parts left after processing, and wallboard and wood scraps from construction sites.

The new publication is available free while supplies last from Robert J. Wright, ARS National Program Staff, BARC-West, Building 005, Room 232, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Scientific contacts: Ronald F. Korcak, ARS Plant Sciences Institute, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6591, fax (301) 504-5521,; Robert J. Wright, ARS National Program Staff, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-6065, fax (301) 504-5467,

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