Three hundred-bushel corn in Kansas?
It's possible, says Ron Chamberlain with Gypsoil, a soil amendment product designed to improve the productivity of easily-compacted soils.
Chamberlain says the key to success in soil amendment lies in chemistry and gypsum – in this case synthetic gypsum, not the stuff found in abundance in the Gyp Hills – has just what it takes, chemically speaking.
Better yet, the product comes from the waste stream of coal-fired electrical plants, providing companies a way to sell a product that it would otherwise have to pay to send to an landfill.
Chamberlain says Gypsoil has a 300-acre test field in southeast Kansas and his working with DeAnn Pressley at Kansas State University on a replicated research project. Gypsoil is purchasing its raw material from Westar's Jeffrey Energy Center at St. Mary's.
Making synthetic gypsum
The chemical composition of gypsum is calcium sulfate, Chamberlain says. At the coal-fired plant, Westar uses a bag house to remove heavy metals from the waste smokestack. A spray of calcium carbonate is then used on the sulfur dioxide emission that is left. The result is a slurry of calcium sulfate. Remove the water and what you have left, chemically, is gypsum at a much lower cost than mining it.
"You spread it on heavy clay soils the same way you would spread lime," Chamberlain says. "With rainfall, the calcium unhooks from the sulfur as it moves through the soil profile. The sulfur binds with magnesium, sodium and aluminum and moves those through to the subsoil. Calcium replaces the soil surface.
Calcium helps the clay particles hold together forming clumps that allow rain, air and plant roots to penetrate. The added air and water help the microbial life in the soil flourish as well, he said.
"Once you eliminate the compaction and improve soil microbial life, you have prairie soils and those are capable of high-yielding crop production," he said.