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Will chicken litter and fly ash make the 'perfect' compost?

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Brent stumbled upon the fly ash years ago while working at Georgia-Pacific, and the stuff's fertilizing power came as no surprise. He recalled walking past the mill's fly ash pond daily and seeing how the dumped waste material made nearby vegetation thrive.

"Around that fly ash pond, common Bermuda grass was that deep," he says, spacing his hands to recreate the size. "You could look and see it was working, but we didn't know how."

Brent says he spent more than $1,000 sending samples of his mixture to Mississippi State University for analysis to nail down the fly ash's key ingredient before finally determining it advanced the cation exchange capacity of the soil. In the exchange, positive and negative charged elements of the mixture react together to break down the mixture and release nutrients into the soil. Brent says his accelerated compost will release more plant nutrients, especially nitrogen, than traditional commercial fertilizer.

"There's enough nitrogen in the soil, but certain things keep the plan from using it," Brent says. "Whenever this come out, I can assure you there will be a higher amount of nutrients in it."

The fly ash also accomplishes another major fertilizer feat – it kills the odor of the chicken litter completely. Brent says the bad smell of chicken litter is often its primary drawback for commercial use.

So far, Brent's ducks are in a row. He is testing his mixture on fields in Silver Creek with a permit from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The results so far are noticeable, but more stringent testing will be required before his compost goes commercial.

Dr. Larry Oldham, an MSU Extension professor and soil expert who Brent has called for advice many times, says Brent's accelerated compost would have to be validated in controlled scientific tests. He did say, however, that Brent might be onto something, and other, larger entities are trying to get to the finish line, too.

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