Dairy chop from palm fronds and dates

Dairy chop from palm fronds and dates.

Palm hay: Coachella farmer turns fronds into economical livestock feed

Jim Parks spent years testing, chopping, and grinding large amounts of palm fronds and left-over dates. His vision - mold the two natural ingredients together in pellet form and call it palm hay.  

Talk about a win-win-win situation. Dead fronds from palm trees are problem materials when it comes to disposal. Although organic in nature, they are hard to grind up and can take 50 years to biodegrade in a landfill.

Jim Parks, chief executive officer of Palm Silage Inc. at Thermal, Calif., decided that if lemonade can be made from lemons then making food from palm fronds also makes sense.

Parks, a veteran palm tree farmer, traveled to Tunisia where he witnessed cattle feeding on coarse fronds. After the trip, he spent years testing, chopping, and grinding large amounts of palm fronds and wasted dates. His vision was to mold the two natural ingredients together in pellet form and call it palm hay. 

“I’m just a simple farmer in the Coachella Valley growing palm trees for 16 years and this concept isn’t rocket science,” Parks says. “I’ve watched various animals eagerly eat palm fronds off the ground like it was cotton candy.”

The palm tree is from the grass family, a monocot, and is digestible. Fronds trimmed from trees in the spring are high in protein.

For years, discarded palm fronds have been a problem. Parks spent three years and $500,000 modifying grinders, adding dates to the end product, and getting the product into a silage form for baling, cubing, and pelletizing.

“We took what was basically trash and turned it into a nutritious feed,” he says. “We feel like we’ve discovered a gold mine, taking millions of tons of palm fronds currently thrown away in Coachella Valley date crops and turning it into millions of tons of (animal) feed.”

His company has partnered with the city of Phoenix to help dispose of the 34,000 tons of palm fronds discarded into landfills annually.

A two-phase palm frond diversion services contract was signed with Palm Silage Arizona LLC, Parks’ Arizona affiliate, initially leasing six acres to dry and grind the collected fronds, and then another four acres to manufacture livestock feed. The 10-year lease contract includes two, 10-year renewal options.

“They didn’t know how to get rid of the palm fronds. If you put fronds into a landfill it’s like pouring concrete into the works. It messes up their methane gas operation so they don’t want the fronds. Nobody does, except Palm Silage.”

Using their specially-designed equipment, the firm grinds fronds into a hay-like consistency and forms it in palm hay or pelletized feed.

Looking at it from the farmer’s point of view, Parks says feeding frond-based products to animals can help reduce feed costs for livestock producers.

“They can get more nutrition for less money.” Parks’ invention is worth bragging about.

“We are innovators in waste diversion and pioneers in drought-tolerant feed, and the only company in the world with pending patents on a process to convert palm fronds into a highly-nutritious livestock feed.”

He adds, “We take fresh cut palm from Coachella Valley groves and add in recycled dates. Our Sweet Date Feed has five simple ingredients - ground palm fronds, ground dates (Deglet Noor variety), canola meal, wheat middlings (millfeed), and rice bran - all natural.

“It’s the healthiest sweetener Mother Nature can give.”

A pound of Sweet Date Feed includes 91 percent dry matter with 9 percent moisture. A review by the California Department of Food and Agriculture found no toxic compounds or adulteration concerns in the feed, and recognized it as a safe feed ingredient. 

According to the online animal feed encyclopedia called Feedipedia, the development of the palm oil industry since the 1990s has caused a higher output of fibrous waste which offers an economical source of nutrition for ruminants. It’s a low-protein, high-fiber, palatable feeding material for many classes of herbivore livestock.

The product is sold as a dry pellet or dairy chop for cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and goats. Parks received a testimonial from a Visalia, Calif. horse owner, citing “great results” from feeding the Sweet Date product with alfalfa hay.

Parks feels blessed by this discovery.

“We’re building pellet mills to manufacture our feed and keep costs down. I’m a farmer and want to help other farmers keep their costs down,” he says.

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