Re-Nuble: Eliminating Food Waste By Converting it to Fertilizers

Wasted Food Can be Processed for Agriculture

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California Ag Today recently met with Tinia Pina, CEO of Re-Nuble. She told us about the company and what they stand for.

“We focus on sourcing food waste from wholesale food distributors,” she said.

Re-Nuble works on diverting food to food banks instead of landfills.

Re-Nuble primarily sources in urban areas due to compliance and regularity drivers to divert the food from landfills. New York City has a 2020 goal of achieving zero waste.

“The waste that can not be diverted to food banks is processed in a more cheaply manner,” Pina said.

This waste is turned into a product that is sold directly to farms as well as through resellers as an organic liquid fertilizer and pelletized fertilizer.

“It is just raw green food waste. There is that much volume at the wholesale produce distribution level,” Pina explained.

Food that ends up as ‘waste’ is usually because it does not meet food safety compliance.

“It could be from temperatures varying, the food fell on the floor,  broken pallets, and anything that would subject it to the risk of contamination; that is at the point that we collect it,” Pina said.

Re-Nuble is essentially networking, collecting, and turning food around as another renewable resource.

“We work with a hauler  to source it from our one wholesale food distributor and we take it on a daily basis and we basically, within 24 hours, turn it into either a liquid fertilizer that is sold as a fertilizer for controlled environment agriculture or as a pelletized fertilizer, which is great for soil environments,” Pina explained.

The fertilizer is either resold through some of Re-Nuble’s distribution partners or directly to the farms. Re-Nuble is currently in New York; however, they are working on extending out to California.

Ag Collaboration with the Netherlands

Karen Ross: Ag Collaboration with the Netherlands

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

One of the best ways to overcome the challenges that arise in farming, is ag collaboration with countries that have already found solutions to the issues we face.

Karen Ross, secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture, led a delegation of Californians to the Netherlands last month, “for shared discussion on all of the ways we can collaborate on climate-smart agriculture,” Ross said, “including water-use efficiency and improved fertilizer use.”

“In particular, the Netherlands has a shared issue with us—nitrates in groundwater—and what we can do to improve our water management and fertilizer management to avoid that. They’re doing some interesting things with greenhouse technologies and salt-tolerant crops, so we saw some real opportunities. We had university people with us to do some trials here.”

Ross’s group was able to visit Wageningen UR (University & Research centre), Netherlands’ prominent agriculture university. She said between the University of California, Davis and the Dutch university, “we found ways that we can collaborate together to find the solutions that are not just about here in California,” Ross said. “If we can solve these problems on water-use efficiency, desalinating brackish water, and salt-tolerant crop issues in California, we will make a contribution to solving these problems on a global basis.”

Ross’s team also visited many farmers, primarily of specialty crops. Ross commented, “We saw some of their digester technology, which we know is one of the solutions for our dairies. We really want to advance that technology, make it affordable and provide value to our dairies.”

European Farmland Under Pressure

European Farmland under Pressure Due to Regulation and Diversion

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Jose Gomez Carrasco, executive sales manager for AGQ Labs and Technological Services based in Oxnard, is in charge of covering a large area that includes the U.S., Mexico and Central America. Noting global concern regarding how farmland is being used, particularly European farmland, Carrasco said, “There’s a growing population of around 150,000 or 170,000 new mouths every day to feed.” Carrasco said agricultural production on land designated for agricultural use in every country, worldwide, is being diverted to bio-ethanol, or bio-mass, or different renewable energy use, so the availability of agricultural products for food is diminishing.

Carrasco stated this progression needs to be moving in the opposite direction, “especially because there are other issues that are making production more challenging, such as water scarcity, soil erosion and the use and price of agro-chemicals, inputs and fertilizers, all of which are being controlled and monitored more and more.”

“The regulation of crop protection materials is intended to help everyone in the food supply chain,” he continued, “all the way from the grower to the consumer; however, sometimes these regulations can be quite burdensome.”

“In some cases regulations are not for the benefit of all,” Carrasco explained; “just for some. So in markets such as the European Union where the [maximum threshold] number of molecules registered has diminished from 1,000 to 300 or 400 in the last decade, we’re finding a lot of this regulation comes from Germany.” Carrasco said they are leaving a lot of farmers with no agro-chemicals in their arsenal, especially in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, all in southern Europe.

Sustainable Farming: Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size

In case you missed it, we are posting the article, “Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size,” with permission, from Environmental Defense Fund’s Growing Returns blog.

By  | BIO
Lettuce
Credit: Flickr user Dwight Sipler

What comes to mind when you think of a “family farm?” You’re probably picturing a bucolic spread of less than 100 acres, with a red barn, farmer in overalls, and cows grazing a big pasture. What about the phrase “corporate farm” or “?” Do you see a giant, impersonal and industrial-looking operation?

Unfortunately, these common (mis)perceptions are regularly promoted in everything from TV ads to online chats. But the reality is that “big” does not equate to “bad,” and “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” when it comes to sustainable farming. In fact, it’s the wrong debate altogether.

What really matters is performance, not size.

Today is National Agriculture Day, celebrated annually on March 18, and this year’s theme is sustaining future generations. If we’re going to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, we’re going to need large and small farms alike. And no matter their size, they’ll need to minimize their impacts on the natural systems that sustain us all.

Addressing the myth

It’s a myth that large farms can’t be sustainable, just as it’s a myth that all family farms are small and better for the environment.

Take Christine Hamilton, for example, whose family farm produces corn, soybeans, winter wheat and cattle across 14,000 acres in South Dakota. For years she’s been participating in USDA conservation programs, using no-till practices, planting trees to limit erosion, and utilizing variable rate technologies to improve the environment and her yields.

There are also places like Fair Oaks Farms, which milks over 500 cows … an hour. To make their large operation more sustainable, Fair Oaks pumps methane from its livestock to an on-site natural gas station that compresses it into fuel for the farm’s fleet of 40 milk trucks.

Many small-farm operations implement sustainable practices as well. A perfect example is Full Belly Farms, a 400-acre organic farm in Northern California that won last year’s prestigious Leopold Conservation Award. But I’ve visited small farms where livestock roam freely into streams, soil erosion destroys riverbanks, and nutrient management plans are nonexistent.

Sharing responsibility4.1.1

In the U.S., agriculture already occupies 51 percent of our land, uses 80 percent of the [Nation’s consumptive*] water, and is responsible for 8 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. And in the coming decades U.S. farms will be responsible for producing even more food. In order to make agriculture a plus for the environment, farm practices will need to change.

Of course, we have to keep in mind the context here. Mid-size and large-scale family farms account for 8 percent of U.S. farms but 60 percent of the value of production, so in order to bring sustainable agriculture to scale, they will have to do the bulk of the work. But small farms have a much higher share of production for specific commodities in the U.S. – they account for 56 percent of domestic poultry production, for example – so we’ll need their leadership, too.

Regardless of size, all farms need to:

  • Minimize the loss of nutrients and soil to air and water through nutrient optimization strategies such as conservation tillage.
  • Use water as efficiently as possible.
  • Improve soil health through strategies such as cover crops.
  • Avoid plowing up ecologically important lands.
  • Fence livestock out of streams and implement management plans to maintain healthy grazing lands and avoid overgrazing
  • Use strategically placed filters to capture excess nutrients.

It’s time we shift the public debate and get everyone on board the sustainability train. Arguing about a farm’s size won’t deliver environmental benefits. In the end, it’s all about performance.

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*“California Ag Today added Nation’s consumptive” from the original USDA text and offers the following definitions:

Consumptive water use” is a use of water that removes the water from the system so that it cannot be recovered for reuse by some other entity. Consumptive uses may be beneficial or non‐beneficial. A beneficial consumptive use would be crop evapotranspiration.

(Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the amount of water transpired by plants, retained in plant tissues, and evaporated from plant tissues and surrounding soil surfaces.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

If the basis for the discussion is water consumptively used by only agricultural, municipal & industrial users, then agriculture’s share would be estimated in the range of 80 percent of the total. However, if the percentage is based on dedicated water, which includes environmental uses, then agriculture’s share is more in the range of 40 percent.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Dedicated water – as defined by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is “water distributed among urban and agricultural uses, used for protecting and restoring the environment, or storage in surface water and groundwater reservoirs. In any year, some of the dedicated supply includes water that is used multiple times (reuse) and water held in storage from previous years. This is about 40 to 50 percent of the total annual water supply received from precipitation and imported from Colorado, Oregon, and Mexico.”

Context: Water Portfolio”1 (Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Dedicated water includes water flowing in the Wild and Scenic Rivers. Many partially used or unrestricted rivers could have been significantly diverted for use by municipal & industrial and/or agriculture. However, these waters have been dedicated by law to the environment. Other examples of dedicated water are the 800,000 acre‐feet/year reallocated back to the environment by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) and the 647,000 AF/year reallocated back for Trinity River restoration of that river’s fishery.

(Sources: (1) Record of Decision. Trinity River Mainstem Fishery Restoration. Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report. U.S. Department of the Interior. December 2000; (2) Westlands Water District vs. U.S. Department of Interior. Case Nos. 03‐15194, 03‐15289, 03‐15291 and 03‐15737. Argued and Submitted Feb. 9, 2004 ‐ July 13, 2004, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit)

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The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works directly with businesses, government and communities to create lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF’s Growing Returns Blog posts news about the organization’s goal of meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.

Change in Policy on Fumigant Puts Farmers in Bind

Source: California Farm Bureau Federation 

New restrictions have been placed on an important crop protection tool used on more than 40 different California fruit, vegetable, tree and vine crops.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has ended a policy that allows growers in certain areas—also known as townships—to acquire necessary quantities of the soil fumigant 1,3-dichloropropene—sold under the trade name Telone—above an annual allocation cap.

The amount of Telone allowed to be used annually is based on potential exposure averaged over a 70-year span. DPR had allowed more to be used when requested, with the understanding that lesser amounts would subsequently be used so as not to exceed the averaged, 70-year limit.

The affected areas are largely in Fresno, Tulare, Merced, Monterey, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. These areas have used more than the yearly limit of 90,250 pounds set for each township, which is 36 square miles. Some 450 townships in 42 counties use 1,3-D, with about 10 townships likely to be affected by the new policy, according to DPR.

Growers of crops such as sweet potatoes, almonds, walnuts, grapes and strawberries use 1,3-D as a preplant soil fumigant to give their ground a clean start and protect their crops against nematodes and diseases that result in lower yields and quality.

Fumigants continue to face tighter regulatory restrictions, leaving growers with fewer pest management options and less-effective materials. With the international phase-out of methyl bromide, growers have increasingly turned to alternatives such as 1,3-D, and they say the latest limits on the product erode their ability to produce their crops.

“Food costs are going to go up,” said David P. Souza, a sweet potato grower in Merced County, “because the less we produce, the more it’s going to cost. Hopefully, people are ready to adjust to that.”

DPR officials said they understand that no longer granting the exemptions will present challenges for farmers. But DPR Director Brian Leahy said the department “believes in being very protective when it comes to fumigants.”

“We continuously evaluate their use,” Leahy said, noting that DPR has been reviewing 1,3-D since 2009 to assess its toxicity and risk. The department said it expects to complete the study in 18 months.

David Doll, a University of California pomology farm advisor in Merced County, said the change in DPR policy has created a real bind for almond growers who had made planting decisions based on the belief that they would be able to fumigate with Telone.

“I think it caught a lot of people by surprise,” he said. “There were a lot of farmers who were expecting (the cap) to be raised and more Telone to be released, and when it wasn’t, I was getting one call after another from farmers who said they weren’t getting any Telone and they didn’t know what to do with regard to planting their almond orchard.”

He said he’s been advising almond farmers to treat what they can with the limited Telone, if they can get it, and then consider applying chloropicrin, which he said is less effective in managing nematodes but works well against Prunus replant disease. Doll said after seeing his own trial work, he consistently recommends fumigating before replanting.

“I’ve seen the stuff work. I’ve watched orchards developed with and without fumigants,” he said, noting that fumigated trees not only produce a crop earlier, but they have higher yields and also use water and nutrients more efficiently.

“If we have an efficient-running operation, we then can trim back our nitrogen, our water and maintain same or greater production,” Doll added.

Merced County farmer Bob Weimer, who grows sweet potatoes, almonds, walnuts and peaches, said the new policy on Telone comes at an especially difficult time when growers are already struggling with dwindling water supplies due to drought.

“If we’re hindered with disease issues underground attacking the roots, then the problems become exacerbated with a shortage of water,” he said.

He said growers’ inability to control pests and diseases wastes critical resources such as water, fertilizer and labor, and undermines the sustainability of the land.