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The power of earthworms, horses and combines

My e-mail inbox can fill up faster than it takes Jamaican sprinter “Lightning” Bolt to humble his competition. Most of these e-mails don’t exactly fit the category of news, but a few of them I just don’t have the heart to delete. So I thought I’d share them with a few folks.

A company in Florida has invented a way to turn horse, uh, waste into green energy for the Ocala/Marion community. The area is known as the horse capital of the world, and most assuredly leads the world in the production of horse waste.

Dung from over 35,000 horses will be trucked from farms, training centers, sales companies, and other equine facilities across Marion County to a site owned and managed by the new enterprise. The manure will be mixed with wood waste and then gasified to produce renewable thermal energy, which will then be used to produce green electric power for sale to the power grid.

The facility is expected to convert upwards of 100,000 tons of stall and wood waste per year. The process should produce approximately 7.2 megawatts of exportable energy daily, enough to power over 1,400 homes.

Gives a whole new meaning to the term horsepower, doesn’t it?

According to a news release from the Weed Science Society of America, the earthworm’s symbiotic relationship with crop production is in danger of being soiled. We all have heard that earthworms feed on plant litter they collect from the soil surface and store inside their narrow, underground homes. As the litter softens and decays, it improves the availability of nutrients in the soil.

Now, though, it appears earthworms could have a sinister side. Scientists have discovered that “underground gardening” by earthworms is contributing to the spread of giant ragweed, a plant that causes sneezes and sniffles, not to mention the fact that some biotypes are resistant to glyphosate.

“Earthworms help ragweed thrive by systematically collecting and burying its seeds in their burrows,” said weed ecologist Emilie Regnier of Ohio State University. “In fact, we’ve found that more than two-thirds of all giant ragweed seedlings emerge from earthworm burrows.”

Scientists have long been mystified by the rapid spread of giant ragweed since it produces relatively few seeds. Now research shows that the ergonomic earthworm is one of the culprits.

“Our study shows that nightcrawlers are some of nature’s most useful weed farmers,” Regnier said. “They actively forage for weed seeds, pull them into their burrows and then ‘plant’ them under up to several inches of soil.”

And finally, news broke on the Internet recently of a record-setting harvest in Norton, Kan., where a 160-acre field of grain was harvested in 10 minutes and 15 seconds. Before you start looking into putting a jet engine on your combine, you should know 100 combines were used to complete the task. I have to admit I’m impressed. Sure hope they had more than one grain truck.


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