Leaf Pellets as Soil Amendment, Weed Control, and Revenue Stream in Agroforestry.

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2024: $22,276.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2026
Grant Recipient: Hazel Hill Orchard
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
John Plescia
Hazel Hill Orchard


No commodities identified


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: mulches - general, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Proposal summary:

    Conventional annual row crops are leading to dangerous
    environmental consequences and do not always lead to healthy
    foods.  Yearly tillage leads to wind and water erosion of
    the loosened soils.  The mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, and
    invertebrates that make soil healthy and vibrant get destroyed by
    tillage and subsequent dehydration and oxidation. 
    Monocultures in the upper Midwest lead to habitat loss and
    species reduction, while excess nitrogen from fertilizers is
    contributing to a dead zone in the Gulf.  

    Agroforestry has the amazing potential to
    prevent and reverse some of these consequences, but it takes 5-15
    years from planting to grow a marketable product in these
    perennial systems.  It is arguably the most healthy farming
    technique for the environment and human consumption, but if the
    farmer cannot survive financially in these early years, then it
    is not viable.  Alley cropping with annual cash crops
    between rows of trees/shrubs is another example of producing cash
    flow before nut/fruit trees are productive.  

    Can leaves be pelletized to use as a natural soil amendment and
    weed reducing mulch? 

    Can these pellets be used as an early revenue source for farmers
    who do not yet have marketable produce?





    Project objectives from proposal:

    Educational Farm Tour

    Farm Tour Poster

    Approximately 15 years ago Scott made a trial batch of pelletized
    leaves through the California Pellet Mill Company (CPM) in
    Waterloo, IA.  This was a free service at the time, but now
    it has become costly to do trial studies.  We have tested
    this sample through A & L Great Lakes Laboratories and found that
    it is a safe and inert product for soil improvement and weed
    suppression.  Leaves are an excellent source of carbon,
    phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.  Leaves are a
    renewable resource that pile up on agroforestry farms and
    neighborhoods.  In rural areas they blow around and slowly
    degrade wherever they settle.  In urban neighborhoods they
    become a nuisance and are hauled away to storage/disposal
    areas.  We are going to collect leaves from our farms and
    local municipalities in brown paper bags and recycle them into an
    all natural weed suppressant, moisture retainer, and soil

     A local town, Rochelle, IL allows us to bag leaves from
    their collection pile, or pick up the prebagged leaves.  On
    our farms, this will entail mowing leaves into strips and then
    raking them into piles and collecting in brown paper bags. 
    The bags will be stored in Scott's barn until we have a large
    load that can be taken to the pellet mill via a rented U-

    The leaves can be ground and pressurized using CPM mills. 
    This process leads to high temperatures, approximately 150
    degrees, that denature weed seeds.  The finished product
    consists of pellets approximately 1/2 inch in diameter x 1-2
    inches in length that we can package in 20-40 pound bags. 
    This is a manageable size that individuals can then spread around
    the bases of fruit/nut trees, berries, vegetables, and flower
    beds.  The leaf pellets can also be tilled into soil plots
    that are too sandy, clayish, or nutrient depleted.  We will
    use the product on our own farms, and sell excess to local
    home/garden stores, nurseries, landscapers, homeowners, and

    Why can't people just use leaves for mulch?  Why
    pelletize?  Pelletizing condenses the product into a useful
    density, preventing them from blowing away and deteriorating too
    quickly.  The pellets absorb moisture and hold it in the
    soil.  The heating process destroys weed seeds along with
    some bacteria and fungi that can potentially infect plants. 
    This prevents cross-contamination to the plants that we are
    applying the mulch to.  We will test mixed batch, hazel,
    oak, maples, hybrid poplar, etc leaves and have the samples
    analyzed.  We plan to take three batches of leaves to the
    pellet mill using a 26-foot rented U-Haul.  We are going to
    test soil samples (pH, nitrogen, K, zinc, phosphorus, organic
    matter) from our farms before using our pelletized leaf
    product.  We will test again one year later, after applying

    In some ways this is an experimental process.  We know the
    product can be made and we are quite confident that it will be
    useful as a mulch and weed suppressant.  We want to be able
    to show that it improves the soil.  If we can prove that
    this process is beneficial, then we can promote it to our
    neighbors.  The economic benefit would be in sales of the
    product and improved production of agricultural crops.  In
    the future, we might purchase a pellet mill and recycle local
    leaves independently (not having to transport them and pay CPM).



    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.