KIMBERLY • Jamey Kinsey has seen a remarkable change in his hay crop this year. Kinsey explains it in two words: acid whey.
Acid whey is a watery byproduct of Greek yogurt giant Chobani’s manufacturing plant in Twin Falls. Reed Gibby, owner of Carne I Inc. and Evard LLC, is under contract to recycle the whey.
Kinsey tried Gibby’s whey as a soil amendment this year.
Perched on the northern edge of the South Hills in western Cassia County, Kinsey’s farm ground sits at the mouth of McMullen Creek Canyon in an area deep with volcanic ash.
“I’m out here in no man’s land,” he said.
The farm is the site of several ancient “pyroclastic flows,” where hot ash — not lava — spewed from the earth, Kinsey said. The soil is alkaline and he has struggled to grow crops there in the past.
When there is little plant material decomposed in the soil, moisture doesn’t readily seep into the ground. And it doesn’t stay in the soil when it does seep in, said Matt Thompson, of Ag Tec in Twin Falls.
Thompson manages the application of acid whey for Gibby’s operation.
“Adding organic matter increases the water-holding capacity of the soil,” he said Thursday. That’s part of the intent behind using whey as a soil amendment.
In addition, much of the soil around the Magic Valley has a high, or alkaline, pH. Whey from the Greek yogurt manufacturing process has a low, or acid, pH.
“The whey also does a lot to balance the pH of these alkaline soils,” Gibby said.
“It’s natural, and it improves nutrient uptake.” he said. “There’s a lot of magic that happens in the soil,” he said.
Whey contains a high percentage of lactose, which is essentially sugar, he said. “The lactose stimulates microbial activity in the soil — microbes are the link between the soil and plant.”
Gibby has used various kinds of whey on his crops since 1988, he said. Last year, he agreed to take Chobani’s whey.
The whey is used mostly for livestock feed to 200 of Gibby’s customers in the Magic Valley.
Some of the whey made its way to Gibby’s farm near Hollister and was sprinkled on his crops, which stirred up nearby residents. Complaints about the truck traffic and the smell poured in as soon as the trucks started hauling.
Gibby temporarily shut down the operation near Hollister to address the complaints and made changes in how whey is handled.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Gibby told the Times-News.
Chobani is working on a reverse-osmosis system to decrease the amount of water in its whey, which will reduce the volume of byproduct hauled out, said a spokesperson for the company. The system could be installed and operational in a few months.
Gibby will continue to recycle acid whey after the filtering system is installed.
Fred Singleton of Kimberly said he’s farmed in the area for many years, and has never seen hay like this on Kinsey’s farm.
The benefits of adding whey to the soil “is difficult to measure,” Thompson said, “but the farmers can see it.”