This project took place over two and a half years on the White Earth reservation, linking to project work on the Red Lake and Mille Lacs reservation area. The intention is to restore traditional corn varieties and other crops as an essential food source for our community, utilizing post petroleum labor and agriculture, in this case horse power and fish fertilizer.
We’ve begun using fish parts to strengthen our soils in a traditional Anishinaabe way – which we wish to restore to our practices. This method of managing soil fertility has been used on our land for thousands of years, and we’re proud to utilize it today. This last growing season, we applied the fish fertilizer to our crops, in which we grew out our Native seed varieties of corn.
The horses are two 18 year old Percheron Work horses- Aandeg and Rosebud. The horse equipment used was purchased with SARE money including a cultivator, and several plows. The land used for the project was initially the land and parcel on the Callaway, White Earth Land Recovery Project, where we applied fish wastes directly and then tilled it in with the horses. At this time, we raised the Bear Island Flint. In 2015, we were able to secure a tribal land lease for 80 acres on the Ponsford Prairie. This land has been farmed conventionally, but is tribally owned. The land sits between other industrial agriculture fields, and as such we determined that we would not use a highly endangered set of seeds from our heritage Bear Island Flint or our Manitoba White Flint, in 2015. Instead we raised a crop of Painted Mountain Corn, with seed stock originating from the Mandan varieties of western North Dakota.
Studies undertaken to establish the feasibility of a fish fertilizer producing facility with the original objectives being:
- Fishguts added to the soil over 2 year period
- Fishguts mixed with sawdust, then composted and added to the soil over 2 year period
- Fishguts blended in a large blender and sprayed on as fish emulsion.
Having completed the feasibility study in year 1, we established that we needed further analysis to verify the optimal NPK level output for our crops. Hence why we needed a second growing season.
The study was conducted as follows:
There was two sources of fish waste procured. One source was from the Red Lake Fisheries which has a commercial walleye harvest and walleye fillet business. These fish were collected in frozen chopped form, frozen form and fresh and chopped in 50 pound boxes, and in 55 gallon drums.
Collecting the Walleye:
We have been working with Red Lake Fisheries for three years to determine if it is possible to create a tribal fish fertilizer factory, from this bi catch, as it represents over 400,000 pounds of potential fertilizer. This is a separate project, which has been researched for two years, and now needs an engineer to design a facility and complete market plans.
Of note, this fish waste is generally sold to a mink farmer who uses this as mink food for farm mink fur. There is, as well a substantial amount of sheepshead and other fish in bi catch, at least in what we purchased that day. This fish could be used for tribal food programs, and in our initial harvest, we were able to redistribute a substantial amount of fish to local people.
The second was waste from fish harvested under the 1837 Treaty rights at Mille Lacs Reservation. All of the fish gathered in the initial part were walleye pike that had been filleted. This consisted of heads, internal organs, fins, skin, and back bones. The Red Lake Fishery provided walleye waste in 50 lb. frozen boxes. We purchased approximately 2000 pounds annually for two years from the Red Lake Fishery. The 1837 walleye waste was fresh killed walleye carcasses and not frozen. There was approximately 300 lbs. of walleye waste. The third source of material was purchased Indian River Fish emulsion, which we felt represented the potential for the future of the industry. We purchased two gallons of this as a concentrate, and used it mid season.
Working in the Fish Fertilizer:
There are two sets of applications here: year one (already discussed in our previous report) at the White Earth Land Recovery Project offices and year two on the tribal lands.
Year Two: The application of this material was done in the spring of the year 2015. The location of these pictures are on land owned by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and leased to Winona LaDuke. The general area is called the Ponsford Prairie. It is a loam/sandy soil that has been under cultivation for a number of years. It has been farmed commercially in the past and the land was irrigated commercially. On a part of this 80 acres of leased land the fish from Red Lake were laid out in rows and were left on top of the soil. There was some predation of these fish remains by eagles, crows, and coyotes. The exact amount is unknown but there was observation of these species in the area. After approximately 3 weeks a team of horses were used to work the dried fish carcasses into the soil. Upon completion of this the area was hand planted with corn. This was the Painted Mountain Corn variety. We planted approximately one acre. A similar size area was established but no fish waste was added to this area. The area was tilled and marked. This area was also hand planted with the same corn on the same day.
The second part of the study was to create a fish emulsion. This was done by using 1837 Treaty fish waste and placing the fish waste into 5 gallon containers with sealable lids. Approximately 8 to 10 fish carcasses were placed in the container. The containers were filled with water and approximately 2 cups of molasses was added. This was placed in a greenhouse area where temperature for each was maintained at about 90 degrees fahrenheit daily and after 3 weeks approximately one fourth of the liquid was poured off and mixed with 4 gallons of fresh water. This was poured on a row of corn and another row of the same corn received none. This row of corn received two amounts of the fish emulsion about 3 weeks apart.
Over the summer observation were made and the corn with fish waste on it sprouted about the same time as the area without fish waste on it. Within a week of spouting, the corn with the fish waste was darker green and a little taller by about one inch than the corn without fish waste. June 22, 2015 Within a month there was a clear increase in height of corn with fish waste on it. By the 4th of July the corn with the fish waste on average was 4 inches taller than the corn without fish waste. The corn was also darker green that had fish waste than the corn without the fish waste. This continued to be true throughout the summer. No additional watering was done and the only moisture came from rain. All the corn was weeded over summer. There was not much observable difference in weed growth but there was not a measure of it either. The amount of corn produced per plant has been counted on both the corn with fish waste and corn without fish waste.
In our application of emulsion, there was no observable difference between the row that had fish emulsion and the row that did not over the summer. By the end of summer there was a little difference in the corn. The corn with the emulsion was a little darker green and a little taller than the row without the fish emulsion. The amount of corn produced per plant has been counted on both the corn with fish waste and corn without fish waste.
Additional experimentation is being done to observe if grinding the fish waste will be more beneficial and reduce predator loss. Also mixing the ground fish waste with sawdust from a sawmill to see if that adds any additional value.
- Start of Growing – corn with fish fertilizer application
- Corn with Fertilizer application mid-season
- Corn without Fertilizer mid-season
Impact of Results/Outcomes
By the 4th of July the corn with the fish waste on average was 4 inches taller than the corn without fish waste. The corn was also darker green that had fish waste than did the corn without the fish waste. This continued to be true throughout the summer.
By the end of summer there was a little difference in the corn with emulsion applications. The corn with the emulsion was a little darker green and a little taller than the row without the fish emulsion. This suggests that there is value to the emulsion, however, we need to trial next growing season with emulsion from the start of season to measure if there is a difference in crop quality by harvest time.
We will continue with our application of fish fertlizer to our soil and in collaboration with University of Minnesota and Red Lake Fishery we will finalize production of fish fertilizer.