10/26/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent
SARATOGA, N.Y. — Nearly 100 upstate New York dairy farms are keeping cows clean and comfortable with recycled paper mill waste.
The late Roger R. Elston established Syracuse Fiber Recycling LLC 15 years ago, after finding a way to make animal bedding out of paper mill sludge mixed with cement kiln dust.
Sludge contains a great deal of moisture at the end of the papermaking process. Cement dust, high in calcium carbonate, acts as a drying agent that makes the paper waste absorbent. The dust also has a high pH content, which inhibits bacteria to create a healthier environment for cows.
Hanehan Family Dairy in Saratoga, N.Y., has been using the material for several years.
“It allows us to maintain clean beds,” herdsman Philip Hanehan said. “With clean beds comes lower somatic cell counts, better scores and healthier cows.”
The farm, which milks 700 cows, recently won a Super Milk 20 Year Award from the Empire State Milk Quality Council for its two straight decades of producing high-quality milk.
“Farmers use a lot of byproducts,” Hanehan said. “All this stuff helps reduce the carbon footprint of the dairy industry and food production in general.”
For example, things such as cotton seed, canola meal and even almond hulls, which farms in California use, are all byproducts of other goods.
Syracuse Fiber Recycling is now run by Elston’s sons, Joseph and Roger W. Elston, and occupies 40,000 square feet of former manufacturing space near the New York State Fairgrounds.
In 2012, the business sold 70,000 tons of material to 90 farms across New York.
Recently, the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency voted to exempt the business from sales tax on construction materials for a proposed renovation of its facility and a 4,000-square-foot addition, costing a combined $759,000. The IDA has also applied for a $375,000 state grant to help fund the work. The company will finance the rest.
Joe Elston said that approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation was required to start marketing the product, because some farmers put used bedding on fields as fertilizer. The high pH content in cement dust is good for the soil, he said.
The Hanehans mix their recycled fiber with sawdust, which they get from Vermont. However, recycled paper sludge is less expensive and more readily available than sawdust, of which the price can fluctuate greatly, Hanehan said.
The bedding material is placed on top of mattresses and freshened up each day. They use this material for about 70 percent of their cows.
“We get a tractor-trailer load every 10 days,” Hanehan said.
In one barn, they still use deep-bedded sand, another common type of animal bedding.
“The problem with sand is that it settles to the bottom of your manure storage area and has to be dredged out,” Hanehan said.
The Syracuse company gets most of its paper sludge from three mills: Rock-Tenn Co. in Solvay, N.Y., near Syracuse, along with Finch Paper Co. and SCA Tissue, which are directly across the Hudson River from each other in Glens Falls (Warren County) and South Glens Falls (Saratoga County), respectively.
Farmers in central New York pick up the bedding material on their own, directly from the company.
The firm contracts with a trucking company to deliver bedding to farms that are farther away, such as Hanehan’s and Chambers Valley Farm in Salem, Washington County.
After dropping off bedding at farms, trucks go to Finch Paper and SCA Tissue where they pick up sludge that’s brought back to Syracuse for recycling. Sludge that isn’t recycled would have to be landfilled.
Finch Paper owns and operates a sludge landfill in northern Saratoga County. Recycling some sludge extends the life of the landfill.
“We’re especially glad that it can be used for agricultural purposes in this area,” said John Brodt, Finch Paper spokesman.
If the proposed expansion takes place, Syracuse Fiber Recycling expects to see its customer base grow steadily. One of the main obstacles is just getting farmers to try something new.
“Farmers sometimes get comfortable with what they’ve been doing,” Joe Elston said. “But we’re looking at 30-35 percent growth over the next five to 10 years.”