Two Sturgeon County farmers are voicing their concerns over calcium chloride spread across country roads as a dust suppressant.
Peter Pedgerachny and Al Derrien both expressed frustration over desiccated and brown vegetation from calcium chloride runoff after it was sprayed on roads directly in front their houses.
Pedgerachny, who operates an 80-acre mixed farm north of Legal, paid Sturgeon County $405 to apply a dust suppressant to 300 feet of public road in front of his house.
Kortech, a private company near Villeneuve was contracted to spray calcium chloride, an “approved product.” A grader peeled gravel to the side of the road and another truck outfitted with nozzles spread calcium chloride on the road. Gravel was pushed back on top of the road and Sturgeon County sent out a truck of water to wet the calcium chloride.
According to Kortech specs supplied to Sturgeon County offices, the company uses a 27 per cent chloride strength in dust control applications.
“The water draws up the calcium chloride up through the gravel and keeps the dust down,” said Brad Montgomery, operations supervisor for road maintenance at Sturgeon County.
Unfortunately, calcium chloride runoff ran down Pedgerachny’s slightly sloped 110-foot driveway into his 40-foot by 15-foot organic garden. In assessing the damage, he listed 20 tomato plants, cucumbers, peas, radishes, peppers, two apple trees and lilac bushes.
“I noticed the tomato leaves turned brown. I had peas and cucumbers, but they had brown leaves and I pulled them out because they were affected. I noticed the grass was dying and the apple trees and the lilacs around the garden were dying. The branches had dried up. The apple trees had apples, but I wasn’t sure if they were affected since the roots were feeding off the calcium chloride,” said Pedgerachny.
The Legal farmer, who often shared produce with neighbours and usually feasted on tomatoes until Christmas, dug up the plants and threw them away.
Calcium chloride is a salt product used as a food additive, fertilizer and dust suppressor depending on its grade and strength. In heavy doses calcium chloride causes leaf drop, desiccation, burning, fruit drop and even failure to develop fruit.
“High salt concentration inhibits the passive flow of water in plants. In fact, it reverses it and sucks the water out of a plant,” said Harry Brook, crop specialist for Alberta Agriculture.
Pedgerachny invited Montgomery to view the damage and the county official offered to bring a truck filled with water to flush out the soil and dilute it.
“What good would that do? It would just spread the calcium chloride to a bigger area,” Pedgerachny said.
Montgomery also added he offered Pedgerachny a telephone number for an insurance company that manages these issues.
“They are the experts.”
Al Derrien, a retired farmer who downsized his northeast Legal operation to 10 acres, states that the calcium chloride simply does not work.
“We like to sit under a tree during happy hour and when someone goes by the dust is as high as a truck,” said Derrien. “The calcium chloride only helps to a point.”
He explains that during summer’s hottest weeks, Sturgeon County trucks carrying water were called several times to spray down the road.
“When you keep wetting it, it’s high maintenance. If the county is claiming it’s cheaper than oil, I don’t see how.”
Both Derrien and Pedgerachny would like the county to bring back a second option of using oil on roads.
Montgomery points out that until several years ago, the county used an oil base that created a hard surface and admits it was an effective dust suppressant.
“But they developed pot holes quickly and when you have two different types of roads meeting each other, gravel and asphalt, it can be a safety and maintenance issue. And you need to keep getting trucks to patch the potholes.
“The stability of the base under the road is important. Yes, oil costs more and lasted longer, but if the base wasn’t good, it would cost more in the long run.”
Derrien would still like to see more options offered.
“If we pay more for the oil, if I have to pay $2,000, I’d pay it. It would cost the same since I’d only be applying for it every three to five years.”
In the meantime, Pedgerachney is wondering if Sturgeon County will reimburse him for a service that has caused more grief than benefit.
“I don’t like to stir things up, but when it’s an issue where they step on you and walk away, it ruffles my feathers.”