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Turning gin trash into compost offers added value potential

Lemonade out of lemons.

Silk purses out of sows' ears.

Pick your cliché about making the best out of a bad or at least a less than desirable situation and then consider what Gerry Kasberg, Birome Gin Co., Birome, Texas, has done to turn a product that created a disposal problem into a potential profitable byproduct of the ginning process.

“Gin trash — stalks, hulls and broken seed,” Kasberg says, creates a disposal problem for many ginners. Some of the refuse from ginning can be turned into cattle feed, a replacement for hay. “It's harder to handle but it works,” he says. “We have few oil mills left in the area so crushing cottonseed is not as good an option as it once was.”

But Kasberg is also taking the other stuff, the trash, and turning it into a useful byproduct, compost for soil amendments.

He's worked with John Willis, with V.W. Organics, to develop a process to make something useful out of a disposal problem.

Willis started working in waste water management, concentrating on dairy operations with runoff problems.

“Dairies were pumping waste water onto fields, but were concerned about creating algae in nearby lakes. We developed a method of separating solids and moved those off premises to lower phosphorus levels.”

He says it was a closed system that reduced phosphorus levels significantly. From that he got interested in other types of waste — gin trash, for instance.

The Birome Gin Co. site features a large aerobic composter to process the trash. The composter rotates four times per hour. Kasberg adds new cotton trash to the composter daily to produce a fresh batch each day.

Willis says it takes three days to turn the mixture into compost. Typically, Birome Gin Co. produces 15 yards of compost per day.

Temperature is a key, Willis says. “For the first 24 hours we keep temperatures from 131 to 155 degrees to kill pathogens and germination of any seed. Within 72 hours we have a high quality compost.”

It also includes a good nitrogen source. “We add turkey blood from a nearby slaughter house,” Willis says.

Kasberg has been working with the compost material for several years. “It's rewarding to take a waste product and turn it into something useful,” he says.

To reduce odor in the fresh product, they spread the new compost in long rows across a field where it cures for a few months before going to market. They bag the cured product under the label “Birome Gin's Best.”

“It's been a struggle this year and we're at a turning point with a few more hurdles to cross to see how well it works,” Kasberg says.

Most of his business is in Waco, mostly landscapers and home gardeners. And he's used fund-raising efforts by a Junior ROTC unit to help with sales. “The first year they sold 2,300 bags in two days,” he says. “Last year we moved 12, 000.”

He says ginning volume will be off significantly this year with the combined effects of an acreage decrease and a prolonged drought.

Kasberg says Birome Gin Co. has operated at this site for more than 100 years.

TAGS: Cotton
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