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Incinerator that destroys tainted sunflower screenings is out of commission

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on Nov. 3, 2021, acknowledged that the incinerator at the facility associated with ADM in Enderlin, which had been used to destroy feed products exceeding legal amounts of Palmer amaranth, was down. The weed has been a “prohibited noxious” weed in the state since Sept. 2, 2019.

Palmer seed on lined paper for scale.jpg
Palmer amaranth seeds are shown on lined paper to indicate their tiny size. Though the seeds are small, the weed can grow to be massive and reproduce quickly to overtake crops. (Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota)
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BISMARCK, North Dakota — An incinerator that had been used to destroy sunflower screenings infested with Palmer amaranth seeds has been inoperable for a month, forcing other options for processors.

Sunflower screenings have been implicated in several large-scale Palmer amaranth outbreaks in the state. The incinerator at a facility associated with an Archer Daniels Midland plant at Enderlin, North Dakota, had been noted as one possible solution for sunflower processors dealing with an excessive amount of Palmer amaranth seeds in screenings.

Charles Elhard, a plant protection officer with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, on Oct. 11, 2021, had emailed several North Dakota Extension Service officials to ask for input on how to safely destroy tainted screenings. Elhard said the state’s “only destruction option in the state is currently offline and unable to destroy screenings."

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on Nov. 3, 2021, acknowledged that the incinerator at the facility associated with ADM in Enderlin was down. The weed has been a “prohibited noxious” weed in the state since Sept. 2, 2019.

“I believe they’re working on it — maintenance issues, repairs,” Goehring said. He didn’t know any timetable for resuming operations.

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‘Alternative destruction’

Not being able to use the incinerator in Enderlin has left looking for other solutions.

“We (as well as the companies dealing with this problem) are seeking alternative destruction methods and are wondering if you have any suggestions,” Elhard wrote in the Oct. 11 email. “Currently there are approximately 400,000 pounds per week (boldface included in the message) that needs to be destroyed.”

Joe Ikley, Extension weed specialist in the NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, responded that the only scientific paper he was aware of that evaluated Palmer amaranth seeds found that the seed needed to be heated to 500 C (752 Fahrenheit) for 40 or 60 seconds to “render Palmer seed non-viable.” In the paper, the seeds were “directly placed in a crucible into a kiln."

“I suspect the duration and/or temperature would need to be extended in the case of screenings since there is another inert material to insulate the seed from the heat,” he said.

On Oct. 12, 2021, Elhard said he had found some research on bird food imports from other countries for other weed species, but nothing on Palmer amaranth.

Ikley on Oct. 12, 2021, said he was unaware of any other locations in the state that could incinerate the volume of screenings that the Enderlin facility could. Ikley wondered if ethanol plants or other ADM or Cargill facilities in the state may be equipped.

Ikley listed a protocol from the North Dakota Department of Health and Division of Waste Management from 2009. In that protocol, it seemed like taking screenings “to a landfill and covering them with dirt at the end of the work day is the official protocol if they can’t be disposed of by other methods.” Ikley also urged checking with neighboring states to see if there are “nearby incineration capabilities outside of North Dakota.”

Goehring said Red River Commodities of Fargo, North Dakota, is testing for Palmer amaranth in the wake of an incident in which Barnes County cattleman Tyler Elston in 2020 learned the 75 loads of sunflower screenings he’d bought had 400 times their legal limit of Palmer amaranth seed .

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Goehring said a Department of Agriculture official must be there to supervise the sampling for Palmer amaranth seeds. He said the company is sequestering screenings until they can be tested. Screenings testing “negative” can be marketed. Those testing “positive” are accumulated in a semi-trailer and will occasionally be destroyed.

CHS Sunflower of Grandin, North Dakota, doesn’t have bin facilities to sample and test screenings and so has been destroying them. At Shields, North Dakota, rancher Mike Weinhandl, in Grant County, in September 2021 reported Palmer amaranth weeds were growing in areas where ranch crews had spread sunflower screenings from CHS Sunflower , over the past winter.

With the Enderlin incinerator out of commission, processors have three options, Goehring said.

First, they can take them to a sanitary landfill. He said some landfills “can take them” but not all of them will. He thought the Fargo landfill was taking some, but didn’t know if they were still taking them. The screenings have to be adequately buried to avoid spreading. He said it’s up to companies to check with landfills.

Second, processors can dig a pit — either on their own property, or perhaps a farmer’s — where they can be dumped, burned, and then buried.

Third, processors can compost the screenings. This means acquiring compost equipment and providing a carbon source, other than the screenings themselves. Goehring said he wasn’t aware which of the options CHS Sunflower was taking.

Goehring said he realizes that the extra testing and handling can add to the costs and could affect the price processors can pay for sunflowers. He said farmers buying screenings from commodity processing — sunflowers or anything else — need to realize the risk of bringing in noxious weeds and must have an action plan.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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