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Land Clearing for Agriculture

Discussion in 'Agricultural Operations' started by big sig, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. Randy88

    Randy88 Senior Member

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    Watglen, what are they planning on doing with the land, to put it back into timber and seed tree's or to farm it, pasture, develop, what?? It makes a difference as to how to go about handing the residue that's there now.
     
  2. watglen

    watglen Senior Member

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    They want to get it to be cropland. Corn beans wheat.
     
  3. Scrub Puller

    Scrub Puller Senior Member

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    Yair . . .

    This is what I don't understand with mulching.

    All the stumps are still there and all the residue has to be rotted down or burnt

    Why would it be seen as a viable method to clear land for cropping?

    Cheers.
     
  4. CM1995

    CM1995 Super Moderator

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    Decomposing wood chips rob the soil of nitrogen during the rotting process. Adding nitrogen helps speed the rotting process and ads nitrogen back to the soil robbed by the decomposition.
     
  5. Scrub Puller

    Scrub Puller Senior Member

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    Yair . . .

    This is what I don't understand with mulching.

    All the stumps are still there and all the residue has to be rotted down or burnt

    Why would it be seen as a viable method to clear land for cropping?

    We are in forty inch rainfall country and hardwood chips from roadside mulching are still there after five years. They break down much quicker if they are mixed a bit with soil.

    In my opinion nitrogen and probably some lime would help as would some heavy discing to mix things up a bit.

    Cheers.
     
  6. Scrub Puller

    Scrub Puller Senior Member

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    Yair . . .

    Woops, things screwed up on edit, two posts went up.

    Cheers.
     
  7. Delmer

    Delmer Senior Member

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    Forty inches of rain goes a bit further in Ontario than in Queensland, I'd imagine. I don't think there's any need to mix soil into the chips, but with a foot it couldn't hurt either.

    This has been discussed a bit recently, do a little bit of reading into composting, it's pretty simple, Carbon to Nitrogen, for fast composting it's something like 20-50 to 1 ratio that you want. You're not going to put that much nitrogen on 15 acre feet of wood chips, but you can do something. Think of it like this, every nitrogen bit can decompose 20 carbon bits in whatever number of days, if you have what's available in the soil (not much and it's not mixed up even) and the air (tiny, tiny bit) and the wood (not much there either), then you'll still have wood chips in five years that will absorb any nitrogen applied even if you think you can plant through them. If you spread enough nitrogen on top to decompose the top 2 inches then that nitrogen will be released as the first chips are decomposed and continue to break down the rest of the chips.

    I've never seen this quantity of chips, but it works fine on a garden scale. There are going to be wood pieces left 10 years from now from the rot resistant species, but adding nitrogen is the best you can do at this point.

    It's not too late in the season to do it now. Chips that deep will heat up temporarily from the green bark and leaves, if you add some more N then it might work all winter? at least another month and start off as soon as the snow's gone in the spring.
     
  8. Randy88

    Randy88 Senior Member

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    Just who was completely asleep at the switch on this ordeal, was farming it an afterthought once it was mulched, surly they never went into this will farming it in mind from the start did they??

    Well then I'd venture a guess the stumps are still in the ground and still there then right? If so, then they need to come out, either by grubbing or by stump grinding.

    But if the stumps are taken care of, do as scrub said and get a huge plowing disk and work the stuff into the ground, mix it up and go from there.

    To answer your question of using nitrogen, first its a waste of time on your part, second with enough nitrogen to get the job done, I'm pretty sure you'd be in major violations of enough laws to put you in jail till they can figure out just how many laws you've broken, which could take some time to calculate, not to mention groundwater contamination issues with nitrates and a whole list of things you've never dreamed existed for laws on the books, I'd really suggest you avoid that learning curve as much as possible and let mother nature take its course first, as of now, no laws have been broken or fines need to be paid.

    The ground needs major lime first and foremost, and also P and K in huge doses as well, manure works great if you have that available, but I'd think you have organic matter covered pretty good at this point, if you get some of it worked in that is.

    As for all the rest of the garbage you can't get rid of, shove it into huge piles and let time take its course and have the guy farm around the mountains of mulch for a few years till they decompose down somewhat and then spread them over the rest of the land is how I'd handle it.

    If your not yet committed to this project, maybe hang back a while and watch the whole thing unfold, not sure your going to make anyone happy at this point of the project, the owner might as well be ticked off at someone else besides you.
     
  9. hvy 1ton

    hvy 1ton Senior Member

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    Wood chips and residue in general don't rob nitrogen, but they do tie up it chemically during breakdown. Adjusting the soil pH, mixing the residue with soil and adding a reasonable amount nitrogen will expedite the chemical process. I don't know how many lbs/acre of nitrogen a foot of wood chips can tie up, but without having an agronomy degree i can say it's a lot. First step is probably soil tests to see how much nitrogen it will hold and how much lime it will take to adjust the pH. Manure would be great source of nitrogen and phosphorous as well as adding biological activity to the soil. Depending on your area, there may be a producer hungry to get read of some because generally the phosphorous gets too high before they hit their nitrogen goal. Mix and bury the lime, fert, and the wood chips with liberal use of the heaviest offset disk you can find. Getting something growing, wheat or beans if he's brave with a combine, will help too. When the residue starts breaking down enough to free up nitrogen, it'll be a few years before the farmer has to apply nitrogen again.
     
  10. Randy88

    Randy88 Senior Member

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    100 tree's per acre, times say for example purpose's of 5,000 lbs per tree, =500,000 lbs of debris per acre divided by 20 = 25,000 lbs of nitrogen per acre times 30 cents per lb =7500 dollars per acre of Nitrogen. I'm not sure, but give a call to the local coop or whoever and tell them you want to put 25,000 lbs of nitrogen per acre on some cleared timber ground and see what they tell you once the long drawn silence is finally broken and they regain consciousness and can talk.

    Now lets play devils advocate and say there are 200 tree's per acre and they are slightly smaller, say 4000 lbs per tree, and follow through with the math on that one and multiply that figure times 30 cents per lb of N applied to rot down mulched tree debris...........so someone tell me just how valuable is this land, and what is the legal rate to apply nitrogen in your area??

    Or to come closer to reality you could apply about 200 lbs of Nitrogen per acre, and that comes to roughly 2500 to one rate of N ratio to debris, or in other words at that rate it will take roughly 50 years to decay the average amount of debris per acre at the cost, if nitrogen remains constant, of 5,000 dollars per acre of nitrogen product alone, not counting application costs. Without applying any Nitrogen, the entire matt of stuff will be gone much sooner than that due to a descent rate of decay per acre per year and you don't need to do anything.

    I'm sure I'm wrong with the math, but anyhow you look at it, its not cost effective nor legal to do to apply anywhere near that much N per acre. Now if your wanting to boggle the mind, say for example there are far more tree's per acre that weighed an average of 4,000 lbs per tree, prices rise at a rather alarming rate into numbers that could scare even the average person as to costs per acre and in case nobody knows, nitrogen needs to be worked into the ground or debris in order to keep it from volatilizing into the air in minutes of application, now if there is water present, as in rotting debris, it tends to sink downward, rain helps take it down as well, where nitrates become a concern in the water supply. In rotting anything of that magnitude there is too much moisture present to apply any nitrogen so it would stay put and do its job.

    But Delmer is right about the heat given off of rotting debris, with anything that thick, the mass will heat for a long time, the deeper the stuff is piled, the longer it maintains heat, which in turn rots stuff faster and I'd doubt any matt of crap that thick will freeze anytime soon.

    But before applying nitrogen to tree mulch, you'd better check with the laws within your area, because in most area's its illegal to do I believe, but am probably wrong, never tried it, nor could afford it, but I do think you'll make headlines even in the national news, might even get your picture on the TV nationwide and could even go down in history as the person that did it, might even get a law passed with your name on it for future discussion and for setting a standard for nitrogen use worldwide. The old saying of, no advertising is bad, might not apply to this situation. Farmers everywhere will thank you though, for centuries they can say, yea but so and so applied 12 ton of nitrogen per acre or more to rot down tree mulch back in 2016.................................................................... but if you want to compare it to anhydrous, that's roughly three tanks per acre, verse's 35 acres per tank, a slightly different way to calculate nitrogen use and application rates, but if you do the math backwards, you can say, yea but we applied enough anhydrous on 15 acres that would fertilize 1600 acres of corn ground per year, but if you do the math on that, at the rate of about 5000 lbs of corn debris per acre, plus to fertilize that years crop, it figures out about right for the rate's listed in the books for decomposing debris per acre per lb of nitrogen applied, and the bonus is, you also fertilize that years corn crop besides.

    I'd still watch from the sidelines, it could prove to be the most entertaining event in history at the rate its going. And still fire is free, totally amazing how that works out isn't it. Did I mention its perfectly legal to let it rot naturally, no work or help needed, no money spent, didn't want anyone to miss that part, even if my math is wrong.
     
  11. Delmer

    Delmer Senior Member

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    Randy, your math is probably fine, but you're using the total weight of the wood. Half of the tree is water. Half of the dry matter is carbon. And there is some nitrogen in anything green on the tree.

    Watglen needs a copy of the book you have. I've never seen such recommendations, but that is exactly what we're talking about. We're not making this stuff up. It will not rot faster without added nitrogen. Like hvy 1ton, I was thinking nitrogen at a rate around what you'd apply to a heavy crop of corn. You're not intending to decompose everything immediately.
     
  12. hvy 1ton

    hvy 1ton Senior Member

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    I'm not advocating literal tons of nitrogen per acre, but i think leaving will have trees growing out of the chips before it's farmable. I hadn't done the math and yours looks right. 1 acre foot of hardwood wood chips would be around 550,000 lbs so your definitely in the neighborhood. Which makes my previous plan pretty unworkable. Next plan is find a really large feed lot and make compost for the next decade.


    Edit:I got the 550,000 number from density of dry hardwood chips @ 13 lbs/cu ft and wood chips are 400:1 C:N. I don't know what they consider dry wood chips but i'm thinking around 10% which gets me back down to 500,000 minus 1250 lbs of nitrogen that the wood chips start with. I had about 10% of that as a number in my head when i wrote the first post. I was thinking 500 lbs of N would be tied up for 5 years. Waltgen you wanna go stake out a few 1' square and weigh chips?
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2016
  13. Randy88

    Randy88 Senior Member

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    Decomposing chips will do just fine without the aid of added nitrogen, the heat given off by the rotting chips will make any nitrogen volatilize anyhow, adding any nitrogen in any form is a waste of time and money. Cities compost tree and lawn waste all the time, its how they get rid of it all, turn it back into black dirt with enough churning and time, once the heating is done and with enough mixing of the mass and if its ground fine enough and with enough stuff mixed into it, you get a really nice product in the end.

    As for dry matter, your right, total weight goes down, but since its in a massive matt, with enough rainfall, the weight isn't going to go down until the heating process is over and in order to achieve that, the decaying process will as well. Forests everywhere have always had decaying on a natural basis, no additional nitrogen was ever applied, once mulched up the natural decaying will start in making it impossible to stop from heating unless the entire mass was dry before it was mulched and no water is ever added, which will be impossible to achieve in the open.

    If you shove the whole mass into a huge pile with endloaders, provided you could pack and get the end loader up high enough without tipping over, time and nature will take its course, steam will come off the pile for years as it rots down, if you could churn it every so often to aid in its decay and to keep the garbage from sprouting on the top of the pile once the heat dies down on the outside, and you wait long enough, say 10-15 years, you will watch it turn back into a charred black substance that crumbles and resembles dirt and can then be mixed into the soil and nobody will ever know the difference. Mother nature will do its thing if given enough time, its been done for millennium.

    I'd have to study the books somewhat to explain it correctly but fire reduces everything to ash fast, speeding up the entire process, those ashes then spread back out have all the goodies in them, many take the time to bury them so there is no dust to contend with, we just use a cat and spread them out on the land, a few rains and once mixed in the top soil, nobody will ever notice the ash and its never been an issue, we just bypass the whole decay process instead of decades, years or whatever, we reduce the time to weeks or months to reduce the total bulk to carbon again. Some believe all the nutrients of the entire mass is still in the ash left behind, can't say for sure, never chemically tested any ash before myself, but chemistry says the chemical makeup of nutrients don't burn per say, they are just reduced in form from bulk to ash, or so my chemistry teacher in school said way back when, never argued with him on it, figured he was smarter than me at the time, pretty sure he still is smarter than me so I took his word for it.

    The portion many forget is, nitrogen is readily available in the environment at all times, its how the natural decay process works, even within the human body, adding any more really isn't necessary to get decay to start, preventing decay is another process completely, studies have been done, many poorly and incomplete and many more will soon start due to the lawsuit between the city of DesMoines Iowa and the watershed above it as to nitrate use and the cost to remove it from river water that is used for drinking water for the city of DesMoines, so stay tuned, its a high dollar lawsuit that will take years to hash over, but so far a couple studies show there are roughly up to 10,000 lbs of natural nitrogen per acre in land at all times, just to allow nature to do its thing naturally, the issue comes into play does anyone believe it and if so how come it can't be used to grown crops instead of adding additional nitrogen is one of many debates going on. But put 100 scientist in a room all experts and you'll get 100 different answers, all with studies to back up their claims, now which one do you want to believe is the key question.

    But in theory you guys are right, adding additional nitrogen will help speed up decay, the question is, how much and what's the cost and how much does it speed it up over nature taking its course and what is the liability of doing so, if you let nature take its course, there is no liability on your part, if you aid the process, you could be liable and it might be against the law depending on how much help you give it, and the list goes on and on.

    There are plenty of what if's in the this project that can be hashed over for pages and years to come, the issue is and always will be, the cost factor to the land owner, what's the cheapest way to get rid of what's there so it can be put to crops to generate the most money for the owner the fastest, its the only question that matters in the end. The problem lies in, the owner chose the wrong person and method to clear the land and now the cost to clean it up is about the highest one imaginable, he's stuck in a no win situation and isn't going to get better anytime soon no matter what's done.
     
  14. Delmer

    Delmer Senior Member

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    The weight of the wood chips isn't the issue, it's the amount of carbon that they contain compared to the amount of nitrogen. The water content and other biological stuff doesn't affect the C N ratio.

    You're wrong on composting wood chips, cities compost grass clippings, have you ever seen a cow eat wood chips instead of grass clippings? Grass clippings are relatively high protein/nitrogen and low in carbon. A pile of wood chips or sawdust will heat up initially as the little nitrogen gets tied up by the fungi/bacteria whatever, and then will sit for years.

    N2 is as useless as Argon or Helium to plants, fungi and MOST bacteria. Legumes are a source of nitrogen from the atmosphere, but how do you get clover established in a foot of wood chips?

    Fire will destroy the organic matter and all of the nitrogen that is in the wood chips. Plus, how is he going to get wood chips to burn in Ontario at this time of year? it won't be any better next summer without a huge drought. Even then, only the top of the wood chips will be dry, the rest will be wet enough to smolder for months if they burn at all.

    I didn't tell anybody to mulch this ground, but now that it is, nitrogen will speed up the process.
     
  15. watglen

    watglen Senior Member

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    This thread is entertaining as well as enlightening.

    :notworthy

    I will recommend stirring the chips in with the soil underneath somehow, and adding a little nitrogen. He can apply 50 or 100 pounds/acres with his sprayer. For the number of acres he runs, it won't show up in the budget.

    They are afraid of bringing up more root and stump material, making matters worse. But I am think that unless he does something to bring up some dirt and keep stirring it, the wood chips will be there forever.

    Aside, he never actually asked for my recommendation. He is of the mind that doing nothing for a couple years should decompose it. I thought I would ask you guys.


    Thanks for the input, y'all seem to have yer sh*t together
    :drinkup
     
  16. Randy88

    Randy88 Senior Member

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    Cities around here compost everything, including and mainly wood debris, if you live within city limits around here its illegal to burn tree's, with all the storms the last few years, all the tree services take all the cut stuff to the city recycling center and its all fed into horizontal chippers, I know, its done right across the fence from me about four times a year, then they bring in tub grinders and grind everything together, I know the guys that do it, they cover most of the towns in the area. Yes they add grass clippings to it, same for any yard waste, this time of year its leaves, shrubs, flower bed debris, anything and its tub ground together, then they turn it several times and if its dry out, water it down and afterwards, it all free to anyone living within city limits to go get.

    Wood chips, mulch and sawdust are big in my area for composting dead livestock, in a semi load piled up in a heap a farmer can shove quite a few dead cows into the pile, it cuts the smell, and within a few months the entire critter is gone, bones, hide, hooves, skull and all. Then you just add more chips, mulch or sawdust and keep the cycle going, when the entire mass gets wet enough and no longer contains the smell, its all loaded up and hauled out on the fields and they start over with new.

    As for nitrogen to speed up the process, you are right, but before doing it, in the volumes needed, check to see if its legal to do, its not in my area, none that I know of, not to mention the price factor involved. Around here the DNR, NRCS, or EPA would never go along with it, never have and if you'd attempt it, you'd be monitored beyond belief for nitrate contamination of nearby groundwater of any type.

    As for not getting the mulch to burn, if you have a CO-GEN plant nearby, they pay on a dry basis, but want it wet to keep and burn. As for the stuff being too wet to burn as is, we just cleared 13 acres and finished up last week, the entire timber was still live and growing, it all got fed into the fire and went up in smoke, mulch can be burned as well if you know how to do it, but its not cost effective to do on that large of scale outdoors. The last I knew there was more BTU's of heat in wet live wood than dry dead material, or so I was told by the larger CO-GEN plants I've visited, same for some major Universities in your state that heat and generate their own electricity for their campus.

    But to play devils advocate Delmer, just where have you tried what your claiming will work, just how many lbs per acre of nitrogen did you use, who did you get the permits from and what did it cost on a per ton or per acre basis?? How many years did it take for you to use nitrogen to compost the debris a foot thick on acres worth of ground?? This isn't a backyard experiment, its acres worth of mulch and major nitrogen amounts to achieve it, but your claim it won't decay on its own isn't the case, we've walked into these types of situations before, how we handled it was just like I said, shove it into piles and clear some ground so something can grow, then over time load up and spread out some more debris each year till its all gone and working into the ground and used up, if you couldn't give it away that is first for mulch. The pile will turn to mushy garbage over time, dry out on top and as the heat dies down, the pile will settle and steam, then as its opened up and you stir it, as the years go by, it will be less to haul out, but it is doable, and no laws will be broken, no permits needed to be gotten and nobody is going to be upset besides the person paying the bill. The last debacle we encountered like this, the farmer had hundreds of acres to spread it out on, we called in the large commercial manure haulers with trucks and a tub grinder, ground it up and spit it into trucks and then spread it thin over hundreds of acres, took forever and cost a fortune, but it got done, the farmer learned his lesson as he paid the bill and then we went to work doing all the conservation work and dirt work we needed to do, have no clue how much per acre he had in it, wasn't my fault but it got done. Anytime you physically load anything and move it distances, the price increases considerably, to shove it to the side and pile it up, and the farmer haul it himself over the years is his cheapest option in the long term, if he's not equipped to do this, there are dozens of ways to get it done, none he will be happy with. After having been there and done that, I'd still stand at a distance and watch the whole thing progress or stall out and stay like it is, till it rots down, washes away or is overgrown with junk and garbage to cover the whole mess up and its out of sight.

    The last time I mulched any volume of acres of tree's, it was in a low laying area and in the spring the river came up and six inches thick matt of mulch on the ground floated away, its what the owner wanted, have no idea why, didn't ask him, but his intent wasn't to crop it, his goal was to bid it back into the 10 year set aside program for the third time around and he hated fire, its what he wanted and paid for, whoever farms it some day can curse me beyond words but the owner read somewhere in ten years the stumps would rot and be gone, told him it wouldn't work quite that way, but he insisted it was a "green" way to clear land...............all I know is his check cleared the bank and as of yet, its still in the set aside program and he's sprayed the growth from coming back. Yes we did ask, its not illegal to have mulch float away, no laws were broken and we got the go ahead to do it by all the approved agencies, as they say two thumbs up when I can make everyone involved happy.
     
  17. Delmer

    Delmer Senior Member

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    Composting livestock with wood chips is the same thing. I'd guess livestock have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 5 or less, makes for real smelly composting, like chicken or hog manure. Add some wood and the ratio is more like horse manure, nice clean composting. The added wood chips on the outside absorb any ammonia released from the richer areas. The cities that I've seen keep the wood chips separate from the grass and leaves compost. Grass has enough nitrogen to stand some wood added, but wood chips on their own, or with poor soil won't compost nearly as fast, I swear I'm not making this up.

    I don't know what permits you or Watglen need, that's your problem. I know 200 or 400 lbs per acre of nitrogen is less than some homeowners apply to lawns. If you do it right there will be no run off problems on top of a foot of wood chips.
     
  18. hvy 1ton

    hvy 1ton Senior Member

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    Decomposing high carbon organic matter does not destroy nitrogen, it just ties it up. Decomp requires nitrogen at biological and chemical level. Problem with wood chips is that it's mostly cellulose, which will break down into carbon, carbon dioxide, water, hydrogen sulfide, and maybe a little bit of oxygen. This leaves very little nitrogen to sustain the microbes that facilitate breakdown. Another thing is the mat of wood chips is gonna become anaerobic and too hot, killing off most the biological activity after a while. I didn't think about the fact that only 45-50% of dry matter, but that's still close to 250,000 lbs carbon that has to be broken down from cellulose.

    If somebody was inclined to micromanage this situation, i'd say broadcast 400-500 lbs and disc the chips to mix the fert in. 500 lbs will drop the ratio to 225:1 Then regularly check it with a temp probe and drag a disk through it to aerate when it reaches ~150° F. Do that until its halfway broken down and then either mix it in with the heavy offset disc or invert it with deep plow or disc plow. Alternatively, buy a compost turner, windrow up the chips, beg, borrow, and steal all the manure that's to be had. If there is some larger organic farms and a supply of high nitrogen manure in the area it could be a tidy business.