Lynn Leavitt © Courtesy of Canada Beef
Canadian Cattle Beef-Up Cleaner Air
By Lee Hart
Lynn Leavitt can go to bed each night with peace of mind knowing he is doing his part to help farmers manage an agricultural by-product while at the same time benefitting the environment.
Leavitt, who runs a commercial Black Angus beef operation about 40 km south of Belleville, ON has developed a system for collecting, compacting, and wrapping agricultural plastics to be neatly trucked to a plastic recycler.
“This product is one tool we have available that actually makes it possible to cheat nature,” said Leavitt. “It is a product that allows us to put up winter feed supplies without spoilage—some people call it hay-in-a-day. It is a great tool. But then what do you do with all the used plastic? There is a lot of it, and if it is not handled properly, we run the risk of not being able to use it. So, it is important that all sectors of the agriculture industry work together to make sure it is recycled properly.”
In 2016, after feeling guilt and frustration that no proper recycling systems were available for the agricultural plastic used on his farm, Leavitt designed and built what was later called the Pac-It compactor. It is a relatively low-cost but effective way to handle used plastic so it can be recycled.
His efforts in developing the Pac-It compactor and promoting agriculture plastic recycling over the years earned him recognition as the Beef Farmers of Ontario’s 2023 nominee for The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA).
The compactor is a slated, wooden “crib” with an open top and bottom that fits on a conventional wooden pallet. The idea is to put clean, used plastic wrap inside the crib, compress it, and compact it inside the crib until it is full. The bundle is tied with several wraps of plastic bale twine. Voila, you have a 1,000-pound bundle of used agricultural plastic ready to be shipped to the recycler.
As Leavitt came up with the design for the Pac-It compactor, he created a company—U-Pac AgriService, to help market the compactor and promote the idea of recycling agricultural plastic to other producers. You can learn more about the company and compactor on the U-Pac AgriService Facebook page. His main interest is to raise awareness among producers that there are better options for handling agricultural plastic.
As the fourth generation operating the family farm, Leavitt runs a herd of about 100 head of commercial Black Angus cows. He keeps all his calves for backgrounding and finishing. He works with a local abattoir to have roughly 18-month-old finished animals processed. He supplies some meat products to local restaurants, and two other retailers carry Leavitt Black Angus Beef meat products.
The Prince Edward County farming operation includes 200 acres of deeded land and another 300 acres of rented land. Of all the acres, about 175 acres are used for grazing cows and calves. Stored feed for the cattle includes dry hay, baleage (high-moisture hay bales wrapped in 500-foot-long plastic tubes), corn silage stored in 10-foot diameter, 200-foot-long silage bags, and grain corn.
That plastic is a key part in storing the feed supply for the year, “but there was no practical way to deal with the used material,” said Leavitt. He connected with a local plastic manufacturing company in Belleville, and while they weren’t involved in recycling, it led Leavitt to connect with a recycling operation in London, ON. They were willing to take clean agricultural plastic collected from within a three-hour driving radius of their plant if it could be assembled and transported economically.
That led Leavitt to design the Pac-It compactor to bundle the plastic in a neat, dense package that could be economically trucked. Each bundle from the compactor weighs about 1,000 pounds. As other farmers in the Quinte Region got involved, they too began to bundle agricultural plastic.
The farmers bring their bundled plastic to the Leavitt farm. When there are enough bundles to warrant a load to the recycler, Leavitt brings the bundles to the warehouse of a local agricultural plastic retailer, where they are loaded onto the recycler’s trailer.
Over the years, the plastic recycling system has sent about 225,000 pounds of plastic to the recycling plant, of which about 30,000 has come from the Leavitt farm.
He is always interested in getting the recycling message out to other producers. He has presented at several events, including the London Farm Show, Ontario Forage Council, Beef Farmers of Ontario and Peterborough Soil and Crop Association.
He has also been involved with and received support from CleanFARMS, a not-for-profit industry stewardship organization led by the plant science industry. CleanFARMS is committed to environmental responsibility by properly managing agricultural waste products such as empty agricultural pesticide and fertilizer containers, grain bags, seed and pesticide bags and other agricultural plastics.
“To be able to recycle and repurpose plastics cost-effectively and efficiently, farmers, local municipalities, other levels of government, and industry players must work together to set up a recycling system on a local or regional basis,” explained Leavitt. “This can be a challenge since farmers tend to be naturally independent, so it will require a change in thinking. They need to understand it takes a small investment of time and resources to handle plastics correctly.
“It is great to see this plastic being recycled and repurposed into other plastic products, but I believe where the idea will really gain traction is when the used plastic is converted to biofuel, and that can be done,” he said. “Then we will have a system that goes full circle. The used plastic is made into biofuel, the biofuel is used to power the farm tractor that is putting up feed into plastic bags and tubes, and then that used plastic will be used again to produce more biofuel. It will be one more way to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.”
Story courtesy of Canadian Cattle Association
Pastures and grasslands used for beef cattle provide many ecosystem benefits. Stewardship of the land is essential to the families that raise beef cattle.