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Symposium shows FGD gypsum offers many soil quality benefits

Published September 7, 2012
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Good for crops and environment:

Symposium shows FGD gypsum offers many soil quality benefits

September 7, 2012… As one of several speakers at the recent Midwest Soil
Improvement Symposium, Indiana farmer Jack Maloney recounted that he
started applying synthetic gypsum on his corn and soybean fields 11 years ago
at the urging of his agronomist. The agronomist had seen tight clay soils like
Maloney’s become softer and more permeable to rain water after two or three
applications of gypsum.
“Now we can take a 2-inch rain and not pond,” said Maloney. “The water
infiltration is phenomenal. And it helps structure the soil.”
The Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium: Research and Practical Insights into
Using Gypsum was held August 21, 2012, at Rulon Enterprises, a family farm
operation in Arcadia, IN. The Rulon operation is managed by Ken, Rodney and
Roy Rulon, and Roy’s sons Nick and Neal. In addition to Rulon Enterprises, the
Conservation Technology Information Center and the GYPSOIL Division of
Beneficial Reuse Management sponsored the symposium.
Symposium host Rodney Rulon says gypsum helps “supercharge” his family’s
no-till cropping system. The Rulons began applying gypsum seven years ago to
problem fields where persistent wet spots delayed fieldwork and reduced yield.
After seeing changes in the soil’s physical properties resulting in quicker drying
and better crop results, applications of 1 to 1.5 tons gypsum per acre became a
staple across their entire 5,900-acre system.
“We’re using it to build soil structure and healthy no-till soils,” explained Rulon.
At the one-day symposium, university and USDA researchers, industry experts,
crop consultants and experienced growers presented sessions on the impact of
using gypsum on crop production, soil and water quality, water infiltration,
erosion, runoff and nutrient loss. Field demonstrations of gypsum application
equipment and soil physical properties were also part of the program.
Approximately 150 researchers, crop consultants and growers attended.

Banking moisture

Maloney, who operates a 2,600-acre no-till farm based in Brownsburg, IN, has
observed dramatic differences between his fields and neighboring conventional
fields during wet years, as well as dry years such as 2008 and this past season.
“Our crop stays green where the others are fired up,” he said.
Panelist Cameron Mills, a grower from Walton, IN, who has used gypsum on
sections of his 3,500-acre farm for the past three years, also sees differences in
crop reaction to moisture stress. “We’ve got some fields where we have not
spread gypsum yet, versus the ones where we have applied, and you can
definitely see the difference this year in our crops,” said Mills.
USDA research indicates that gypsum helps soil absorb more water and hold
onto it for use later in the growing season. That improves crop yield, especially
in no-tilled fields, according to Dr. Allen Torbert, lead researcher at the USDA’s
National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, AL, where several gypsum trials
are underway.
“Gypsum improves soil physical properties. It improves aggregation, increases
water infiltration, reduces runoff, improves water-holding capacity, and reduces
erosion losses and nutrient losses,” Torbert said.

Better aggregation

Gypsum contains soluble calcium, which counteracts sodium and magnesium,
and helps improve soil particle aggregation, according to Dr. Jerry Bigham,
professor emeritus, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio
State University. Clay-type soils in the Midwest often have high concentrations
of magnesium, particularly soils historically treated with high-magnesium
limestone, he said.
Without remediation with calcium, clay soil particles act like a “house of cards,”
Bigham explained. “There is a natural tendency for those particles to fly apart
or disperse.” When dispersion occurs, soils are prone to compaction and
crusting, which contributes to faltering plant emergence and poor rooting.
By contrast, strong, well-aggregated soil particles, surrounded by defined
pores, are what make up ideal soil structure.
“We need large pores that can receive and transmit water during times of
excess, and we need small pores that can hold water by capillary action during
times when we have (moisture) stress,” Bigham said.
Improved soil quality enhances soil biology, emphasized Maloney in his
remarks. “It makes that ground sweeter,” he said. “We have a ton of
earthworms out there working for us.”
Gypsum also contributes to optimal root growth. “We can get 10 times more
surface area of the root by adding a soluble calcium source. This can make a
difference to carry the crop over until the next rainfall event,” said Dr. Darrell
Norton, a soil scientist recently retired from the USDA Agricultural Research
Service’s National Soil Erosion Laboratory in West Lafayette, IN.

FGD gypsum

Gypsum, or calcium sulfate dihydrate, has been used for centuries, and was
promoted by Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Colonial crop growers
observed fields that were green and lush when mined gypsum or “land plaster”
was applied, said Dr. Warren Dick, a long-time gypsum researcher and
professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State
The cost of mining and shipping gypsum to crop producers, however, caused
agricultural use of gypsum to dwindle over time except for on high value crops
like potatoes, tomatoes and peanuts.
But thanks to the 1990 Clean Air Amendments, there is a new supply of high
quality and lower cost synthetic gypsum available called flue gas desulfurization
gypsum or FGD gypsum. FGD gypsum is produced as a byproduct by wet
scrubbing systems used to clean emissions at certain coal-fired utilities.
FGD gypsum contains 20 percent soluble calcium or about 400 lbs/ton and 16
percent sulfate sulfur or about 320 lbs/ton, explained Ron Chamberlain,
agronomist and director of gypsum programs for GYPSOIL/Beneficial Reuse
Management. It has the same basic chemical composition as mined gypsum but
at significantly lower cost.
FGD supplies are becoming more widely available as more scrubbers come
online, noted Chamberlain. GYPSOIL serves as a liaison between utilities and
growers, and has developed a network of distributors throughout the Midwest,
Mid-south and Southeast.
“Typically, FGD gypsum is about 10-12 percent moisture, and can be applied
using a truck or pull-type litter or lime spreaders,” Chamberlain said. “Gypsum
does not affect pH. It’s a neutral molecule so it’s not a liming agent.”
FGD gypsum is regulated on a state-by-state basis as a byproduct and it has
been shown to be free of contaminants in repeated analyses, said Chamberlain.

Sulfur depletion

University of Illinois soil fertility and plant nutrition specialist Dr. Fabian
Fernandez outlined his work studying sulfur response in corn. He said sulfur
deficiency has increased across the Midwest in recent years because less sulfur
is being deposited from the atmosphere as a result of emissions regulations. In
addition, high producing crops have greater removal rates, Fernandez said.
While Fernandez has seen a response to added sulfur in some, but not all,
Illinois trials, Dick presented several research reports that showed significant
yield responses in alfalfa and corn when gypsum was used as a sulfur source.
“Gypsum puts an abundance of sulfur out there,” Rulon commented.
“Deficiencies kind of become a non-issue.”
“We have done tissue tests in the last year and the sulfur was at the top of the
charts on the tissue samples,” Maloney agreed.

Water quality

Beyond the crop benefits, the impact of using gypsum on agricultural soils to
improve water quality offers many potential environmental benefits. Norton
showed several examples of gypsum’s positive impact on runoff, erosion and
soluble phosphorus loss.
Joe Nester, a crop consultant from Bryan, OH, recalled seeing a 2002 experiment
by Norton showing gypsum-treated soil vs. untreated soil in both untilled and
tilled sections. Nester showed a picture of a water collection bottle from the
untreated soil that was filled with cloudy, sediment-loaded runoff. That signals
environmental risks and a waste of money, he said. “Where are the nutrients?”
he asked. “They’d better be going into the crop. If not, you are wasting
“Where erosion and runoff are a problem, you can almost bet you’re going to be
able to get a benefit from adding gypsum…no matter what the tillage system,”
Norton said.
For more information about gypsum, or to view symposium presentations, visit
Sidebar on application rates, a list of speakers and background on the
sponsoring organizations follow. Visit for photos and

Recommended application rates

One of the big questions surfacing at the Midwest Soil Improvement
Symposium: Research and Practical Insights into Using Gypsum held August 21,
2012, at Rulon Enterprises, Arcadia, IN, was recommended application rates for
gypsum applied as a soil amendment.
Ron Chamberlain, chief agronomist and director of gypsum programs for
GYPSOIL/Beneficial Reuse Management, recommends growers look at the Cation
Exchange Capacity (CEC) of the specific soils to be amended. Samples should be
tested to determine base saturation and CEC using a reputable soil testing
Recommended rate guide:
CEC Rate Gyspum Application Rate*
<10         0.5 T/A
10-15      1.0 T/A
>15         2.0 T/A
Goal: Base saturation of Ca = 70 to 85%.
*GYPSOIL recommended rate for soil amendment purposes
Symposium speakers:
Karen Scanlon, executive director of CTIC, West Lafayette, IN;
• Dr. Warren Dick, professor, Environmental and Natural Resources, Ohio
  State University, Wooster, OH;
• Dr. Fabian Fernandez, researcher and assistant professor of soil fertility
  and plant nutrition at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL;
• Dr. Darrell Norton, noted soil scientist recently retired from the National
  Soil Erosion Research Lab, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, West
  Lafayette, IN;
• Dr. Rufus Chaney, research agronomist, Environmental Management and
  Byproduct Utilization Laboratory, USDA-Agricultural Research Service,
  Beltsville, MD;
• Dr. Allen Torbert, research leader, National Soil Dynamics Laboratory,
  USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Auburn, AL;
• Dr. Jerry Bigham, professor (retired), Environmental and Natural
  Resources, The Ohio State University, Wooster, OH;
• Dr. Martin Shipitalo, soil scientist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service,
Ames, IA;
• Ron Chamberlain, agronomist and director of gypsum programs for
  Beneficial Reuse Management, marketer of GYPSOIL™ brand gypsum,
  Chicago, IL:
• Grower panelists include: Rodney Rulon; Jack Maloney, Brownsburg, IN;
  and Cameron Mills, Walton, IN;
• Consultant panelists Joe Nester, Nester Ag, Bryan, OH; Daryl Starr of
  Advanced Ag Solutions, Lafayette, IN; Tom Weaver, Kow Consulting,
  Darlington, WI;
Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium 2012 Sponsors
Rulon Enterprises is a 5,900-acre family farm partnership in Arcadia, IN, owned by
Ken, Roy and Rodney Rulon. Started in 1869, the operation is based on the homestead
farm where four generations of Rulons have farmed with sustainability and
environmental responsibility as the focus. The operation was winner of the American
Soybean Association’s 2012 National Conservation Legacy Award.
The Conservation Technology Information Center champions, promotes and provides
information on technologies and sustainable agricultural systems that conserve and
enhance soil, water, air and wildlife resources and are productive and profitable. This
year marks CTIC’s 30th anniversary.
GYPSOIL is a division and tradename of Beneficial Reuse Management LLC. Its mission is
to make a positive impact in its customers’ soil and crops while conserving natural
resources and protecting the environment. GYPSOIL identifies gypsum supplies, assists
in meeting regulatory requirements, develops cost-effective distribution networks and
helps growers understand the agronomics and application methods in using gypsum.
GYPSOIL brand gypsum is distributed to crop growers in the Midwest, Delta and
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC ● 212 W. Superior Street ● Chicago, IL
60654 ● 1-866-GYPSOIL (497-7645) ●
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC
Attendees at the Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium: Research and Practical
Insights into Using Gypsum listen as Dr. Allen Torbert, Lead Researcher at the
National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, USDA-Agricultural Research Service gives
highlights from gypsum research underway. The symposium, held August 21,
2012, at Rulon Enterprises in Arcadia, IN, drew approximately 150 attendees.
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC
Jack Maloney (left), a corn and soybean grower from Brownsburg, IN, discusses
how he uses gypsum as part of his no-till system to improve water infiltration
and soften tight clay soils. Sitting next to him are fellow panelists Cameron
Mills (middle), Walton, IN; and Rodney Rulon (right) who is a partner in Rulon
Enterprises where the symposium was held on August 21, 2012.
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC
Dr. L. Darrell Norton, a retired soil scientist from the National Soil Erosion
Research Lab, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, explains soil profile changes
resulting from gypsum applications. He was speaking at the Midwest Soil
Improvement Symposium, held August 21, 2012, at Rulon Enterprises, Arcadia, IN.
Beneficial Reuse Management LLC
Nick Rulon of Rulon Enterprises demonstrates gypsum application at the
Midwest Soil Improvement Symposium: Research and Practical Insights into
Using Gypsum, held August 21, 2012, at Rulon Enterprises, a family farm
operation in Arcadia, IN.
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