Sulfur burners are a solution to one of irrigation’s largest problems. In this post we discuss what sulfur burners are, why we need them and how to use one. If you prefer to watch this in a video form, here is the link to our YouTube video of Kurt Grimm discussing sulfur burners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgOWi5d4iDg
What are sulfur burners
Sulfur burners are a new piece of technology to our area that we are excited to work with. We have about 8 units out in use right now and are really starting to see some benefits of how this technology can be applied in the corn and soybean irrigation market, specifically for growers that are looking to optimize their water use efficiency and get the maximum amount of nutrients through their irrigation water and make them available to the plant.
Why we need sulfur burners
One of the basic things we need to understand in irrigation is that not all water is created equal. Water has bicarbonates in it; think of bicarbonates as glue. As you apply irrigation water season after season, day after day, you are applying water that has bicarbonates mixed in; those bicarbonates act as glue and bind soil particles together and bind up nutrients. This is showing up in a lot of places where they have been irrigating for 20 or 30 years. Growers are seeing higher yields outside of their pivot or drip irrigation system than they are inside their irrigated ground. They are reporting that the water is not moving correctly; the soil looks compacted, and all kinds of other symptoms show up as those bicarbonate levels build and accumulate over time.
We are using sulfur burners to chemically change the properties of the soil to release those bicarbonates and make those nutrients available again. The sulfur burners we have been using are by AguaDulce (Sweetwater Sulfur Burner). There is a bin that holds dry sulfur prills, and beside that there is a burn chamber to burn the sulfur. On the other side of the unit, there is a venturi that inducts the sulfurous gas off of the fire into the water, and chemically it releases bicarbonate through the exhaust and changes the pH of the water. There are a lot of benefits to using a sulfur burner, but the main one we are looking at right now is the ability to lower pH; not only of your water, but also your soil. If you are in a high pH environment, this is going to release nutrients.
How to use a sulfur burner
Above is a picture of a sulfur burner in use. When you start it up, you open the door on the burn chamber and start a fire inside. Sulfur is self-burning, so once you ignite it, it continues to burn as long as it is given oxygen. Tubes draw the gas or the sulfurous oxide off the top of the fire and induct it into a water stream inside the sulfur burner. That water is being pumped through by your irrigation supply or by the well. After it inducts the sulfurous oxide into the water, that water returns and mixes in the tank, and then is reinjected into the irrigation system. It is a relatively simple process, but it is changing the chemical properties of the water by lowering the pH and making the anions and cations in the soil work for you instead of against you.
What sulfur do we use
The sulfur we use is a by-product of the oil refinery industry. It is 99.9% pure sulfur. It is an OMRI (organic materials review institute) certified product that is certified for organic production. It is very important that the sulfur burned is very pure; any impurities will be leftover as ash and residue that would accumulate inside the burner. It comes as prills either in 50 pound bags or in 2000 pound totes. It is very easy to handle.
We are finding that there are lots of benefits that come along with using sulfur burners. It’s a very economical way to apply sulfur to a crop. Sulfur burning releases those nutrients that are tied up in the soil. It changes the flocculation (clumping) and soil properties and helps make your soil more workable, have better water infiltration and water movement, and greater nutrient availability. We are very excited about using sulfur burners, and would love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, comments or questions.