Compost

BC Agriculture Composting Handbook (link)

BC Agriculture Composting Handbook (pdf document)

This handbook (binder) consists of seventeen Composting Factsheets, which introduce the reader to the composting process, how composting may fit into a farming operation, and some associated environmental concerns. All seventeen individual Factsheets are on our website in the Publications and Conceptual Plans (composting section). Included for producers looking for more detailed information are references and suggested reading (Factsheet No. 16).

Challenges and Opportunities of Cedar Shavings (2010)

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Extractives in cedar

It is true that cedar is higher in extractives like phenolics (e.g. Venner et al. 2009) than some other woods, and these can be toxic to plants, seedlings (and aquatic life if woodwaste leachate enters waters). On the other hand, the phytotoxicity can help to keep down weeds, which is why wood and bark chips can make such good mulch, and these extractives will go away.

C/N ratio

The high carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio of any carbon-rich woodwaste means that woodwaste is slow to decompose. Cedar has a C/N ratio of about 600:1; C/N ratios of 30:1 can be considered a level above which soil amendments should be managed not as N fertilizers but soil conditioners. The concept is the same behind that of backyard composting. The extractives (tropolone) in cedar may make cedar particularly resistant to decomposition (Debell et al. 1997) but again, they do break down and for practical purposes, cedar decomposes at about the same rate as other softwoods (e.g. spruce, fir) in BC and slower than hardwoods.

Management strategies

Composting with a nitrogen source (before land application). This will address concerns about phytotoxic extractives of plant wastes and the C/N ratio (Kostov et al. 1996). Speaking very generally here, use a nitrogen-rich material like poultry manure. The process is most effective with smaller wood particles and needs to be sufficiently intense. Refer to the Agricultural Composting Handbook for more information on composting http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/publist/300Series/382500-0.pdf

Add nitrogen, mix the cedar-based material deeper into soil, or simply wait or use a combination of these approaches (if too much cedar was already applied). If adding nitrogen to accelerate the decrease in the C/N ratio, consider how much nitrogen will be applied. Although the woody material will initially tie up (immobilize) soil N into organic forms, that N will eventually be released (mineralized) to plant-available forms and the goal is for that release to be timed with when crops will take up nitrogen. Tilling into mineral soil will also help to break apart any clumps of material that might result in poor aeration.

References

DeBell, JD, Morrell, JJ, and Gartner, BL. 1997. Tropolone content of increment cores as an indicator of decay resistance in western redcedar. Wood and Fiber Science 29: 364-369.

Kostov, O, Tzvetkov, Y, Petkova, G, and Lynch, JM. 1996. Aerobic composting of plant wastes and their effect on the yield of ryegrass and tomatoes. Biol. Fertil. Soils 23: 20-25.

Venner, KH, Prescott, CE and Preston, CM. 2009. Leaching of nitrogen and phenolics from wood waste and co-composts used for road rehabilitation. J. Environ. Qual. 38: 281-290.

Personal communication with Caroline M Preston*, Natural Resources Canada.

*Neither the author nor Dr. Preston claims expertise in this subject area.

David Poon, PAg
Soil and Nutrient Management Specialist
BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands
1767 Angus Campbell Road
Abbotsford, BC V3G 2M3

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Composting Research at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) (2009)

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With berry season starting and tree fruits also on the way soon, it is a good time to highlight some composting research Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists are doing to support farmers in the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan. Their research is going far beyond the backyard basics, looking at how to use composts as organic soil amendments that improve crop production in farming operations.

Dr. Tom Forge and Dr. Gerry Neilsen of AAFC’s Agassiz and Summerland Research Centres, respectively, are studying how to effectively use composts on high-value crops such as wine grapes, apples, sweet cherries and blueberries. Their research aims to help growers understand the costs and benefits of using compost in orchards and vineyards.

Both are studying municipal composts as well as composted animal manures, measuring the effects of composts on soil quality and crop nutrition and productivity. They are also examining how compost mulches can promote stronger root systems and help plants resist diseases.

Using composts as soil amendments and mulches in horticulture supports the regional recycling of nutrients and reduces the use of synthetic fertilizers. As compost breaks down in the soil, it provides the fertilizer nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in forms that are readily available to plants. Compost also provides a wide range of important micronutrients not found in commercial fertilizers.

For more information on AAFC compost research in BC, please contact:
Dr. Tom Forge, Research Scientist, Agassiz (604) 796-1727 tom.forge@agr.gc.ca
Dr. Gerry Neilsen, Research Scientist, Summerland (250) 494-6377 gerry.neilsen@agr.gc.ca
Sarah Godin, Regional Communications Officer (604) 666-3679 sarah.godin@agr.gc.ca

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Fish/Poultry Compost Benefits Environment, Helps Boost Crop Yields (2006)

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Making use of what has long been regarded as "waste" by-products of fish processing and poultry operations appears to be a benefit for vegetable crop production and the environment, says the regional co-ordinator of a federal/provincial program designed to raise awareness about agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Compost made from the so-called waste of fish processing and poultry operations and added to the soil appears to produce a 50 to 60 percent increase in vegetable crop yields, compared to crops grown with conventional fertilizer, says Ann Marie Whelan, an agrologist and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) field co-ordinator for the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP).

"Compost appears to produce a range of benefits, not only in the quantity but quality of the crops," she says, referring to results of field demonstrations, comparing yields of cabbage and rutabaga crops grown on David Dwyer's vegetable farm near Shearstown on Newfoundland's Conception Bay.

"In a demonstration completed in 2005, rutabaga and cabbage yields in the Dwyer project were up nearly 60 percent, and the produce had better size and appearance over crops produced with chemical fertilizer," says Whelan. "This project is showing farmers there are opportunities to reduce costs, improve yields and also benefit the environment."

The compost project is one of dozens of demonstrations across the country supported in part by the national GHGMP. Launched in 2003, the program is designed to demonstrate and raise awareness of a wide range of practices that not only benefit production but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment. The soil sector of the GHGMP program is administered nationally by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC). For a full feature report on the project visit the SCCC website at www.soilcc.ca

Blending a combination of crab shells and offal and poultry manure - the by-products of local farming and fishing activities - produces a nutrient-rich soil amendment that reduces reliance on chemical fertilizer. Soil testing, plant tissue testing and compost nutrient analysis were used to determine the proper compost application rates.

"Replacing chemical fertilizer with compost reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the manufacture of fertilizer. Burning fuel contributes to greenhouse gas emissions," says Whelan. "And better matching nutrients to crop requirements reduces the risk of fertilizer over-application. Using poultry manure and crab processing waste in compost reduces the impact of these materials on the environment."

The compost comparison was carried out on a one-acre plot that was just part of Dwyer's 70-acre vegetable farm on Newfoundland's east coast about 80 kilometres from St. John's. Dwyer produces a range of crops including carrots, cabbage, rutabaga and beets, which are sold at the farm gate and through local retailers.

"These are dramatic yield increases in the 55 to 60 percent range," says Whelan. "The vegetables also appeared to have better size, color and less blight and less clubroot, making for a superior product over crops grown with chemical fertilizer."

Whelan also noted in a region where drought, in recent years, has reduced yields and wiped out crops, fields treated with compost had improved moisture retention and were better able to withstand the dry conditions.

While reducing crop input costs and increasing yields are important economic benefits, compost also has a proven track record for increasing soil organic matter, which improves soil quality and carbon sequestration in the long term.

For more information, contact:

Ann Marie Whelan
GHGMP Field Co-ordinator
Phone: (709) 747- 13781

Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, Sask.
Phone: (306) 695-4212

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Horse Manure - Alternative Bedding for Better Manure Composting (2008)

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Using an alternative bedding source instead of conventional materials such as shavings or straw, can be a great way to reduce the total volume of waste material coming out of your barn each day. Studies have shown that by using products such as wood pellet bedding, you can reduce the carbon levels in your compost by almost 40% and the total daily volume by 50%. There are a number of options available for livestock owners to help minimize waste produced and prevent environmental contamination due to woodwaste.

Woodwaste products include shavings, hog fuel, tree bark, wood chips and other forms of broken wood. When saturated with direct rainfall it can produce a toxic leachate that pollutes watercourses at low concentrations and depletes oxygen levels in surface waters. Additionally, woodwaste leachate can tie up nitrogen (N) in the soil and make it unavailable for plant growth. Some of the alternatives to woodwaste materials include rubber mats, shredded newspaper/cardboard or wood pellet bedding.

Rubber Mats

One option that is becoming more and more popular with horse owners is the use of rubber mats. They lie in the bottom of the stall and provide the cushioning that horse owners want for their animals, but minimize or eliminate the amount of shavings needed in the stalls. They can be more expensive than other bedding materials, but the savings that will result in the long run will be worth the initial cost. Rubber mats will also cut your stall cleaning time, reduce airborne dust, reduce the risk of thrush and other hoof problems and are easy to install.

Shredded Newspaper/Cardboard

Shredded newspaper or cardboard is another great option for bedding. It is highly absorbent, composts very well and is ecologically sound. Just ask your local newspaper if they have any shredded roll ends that they would like to donate. Most newspapers utilize vegetable-based inks, but it is worth asking, as chemical-based inks are undesirable for compost systems.

Wood Pellet Bedding

Another option that is gaining popularity is the use of wood pellet bedding. Wood pellets are a byproduct of the lumber industry and consist of wood fibres that have been sorted by size, compressed, heat treated and sterilized to remove tars, oils, hydrocarbons and other allergens. When water is added to the pellets they expand in size and can absorb 9 times more liquid than regular shavings. Using wood pellets can reduce the amount of waste you are removing from your barn and lower the costs of stall bedding.

In addition, wood pellet bedding composts much quicker than shavings or straw which often do not fully compost or take a long time to decompose. As wood pellets expand with use, the product that ends up in the compost system has a much smaller particle size that breaks down quickly and easily.

The Art of Using Wood Pellet Bedding

Using wood pellet bedding is indeed an art form as many of the “converted” will tell you. It definitely takes a bit of practice to use wood pellets well and you really do need to give yourself some time to get used to them. The following tips should help you to transition smoothly and quickly.

Purchasing the Bedding

Many local feed stores and businesses that sell fuel for wood stoves will sell bags of wood pellet bedding. The product is generally sold by the bag and in many places if you buy a pallet (which contains about 50 bags) the price per bag will be cheaper. There are a number of brands available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, so you will have to experiment to figure out which one will work best for you. Make sure you find a brand that is guaranteed for use in the livestock or horse industry. It is recommended to find brands that use organic softwood lumber, restrict particle size to reduce dust, disallow hardwood materials that can be toxic for use with horses and limit the use of bark or knots.

Getting Started

In general, you will need between 4 and 7 bags to get a 12 x 12 stall started, depending on how deep you like to bed your animals. Keep in mind that the product continues to expand as you use it so if it looks a little sparse in the beginning it will fluff up considerably over the first week of use.

Pour a couple of bags of the pellets into your wheelbarrow and add enough water to dampen all of the pellets. Watering the bedding prior to putting it in your stalls will help the wood pellets to expand more effectively, absorb more and last much longer. Pre-watering also stops the animal from crushing the pellets or slipping. Once the pellets have been sufficiently watered, leave the wheel barrow for at least one hour to allow the pellets to expand. If only a small amount of expansion has occurred add more water and wait for a bit longer.

Once the pellets look like they are expanding and are ‘sawdust-like’ put them in the stall and repeat the process until you are happy with the thickness of the bedding. Multiple wheelbarrows makes this process much quicker and easier and if you have a larger wheelbarrow you may be able to do more than 2 bags at once.

Stall Cleaning

Cleaning your barn is going to be a little different than if you use shavings and if you have used scoopable cat litter before you will notice the similarities. The urine will clump into a puck-like shape, which you can easily scoop out. Keep in mind that sometimes the urine ‘puck’ will break apart so just take out any of the solid parts and leave the rest in the stall. The moisture from the excess urine will help the product to continue expanding. Odour should not be an issue as pine is a natural deodorizer; however, if you are really concerned there are deodorizing products available for purchase from many retail outlets.

Once you have picked out the manure and urine, thoroughly mix the bedding in the stall and pull the fresh bedding in from the side of the stall to the middle. If the bedding seems a bit dusty then sprinkle it with some water. This can be done frequently, as it will help the bedding to continue expanding.

You will need to add approximately 1-2 bags of fresh bedding to your stalls each week using the process outlined above. It is helpful to get the new bedding started in a separate wheelbarrow while you clean the stalls so that it is ready to add when you are finished cleaning. You will probably want to completely strip and restart each stall every 2-3 months, which will give the stalls time to air out and disinfect properly.

For more information on composting, pasture management or alternative bedding please contact the Manure Maiden at the Langley Environmental Partners Society.

Good luck and happy composting!

Andrea Lawseth B.Sc. (Agro), A.Ag.
Agricultural Stewardship Coordinator
Langley Environmental Partners Society
Phone: 604-532-3515
Email: info@manuremaiden.com
www.manuremaiden.com
www.leps.bc.ca

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Horse Manure - Managing a Valuable Resource (2008)

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Horse Manure: Myths and Misconceptions

Horse manure has gotten a bad rep lately! There is a misconception that all horse manure is too high in carbon and has no fertilizer value for crops or gardens. This is just not the case.

The average 455kg (1000 lb) horse produces 8165kg (9 tons) of manure per year or 23 kg (50 lb) per day. We can start by changing our perception from manure as a waste that needs to be dealt with to a resource that should be celebrated. This 8165 kg of raw manure translates to 45kg (100 lb) of Nitrogen (N), 8kg (17 lb) of Phosphorus (P), 28kg (62 lb) of Potassium (K), and 8084kg of organic matter.

Average Fertilizer Content in Horse Manure (as-is basis)
N / ton 8.6 kg (19 lb)
P2O5 / ton 6.4 kg (14 lb)
K2O / ton 16.3 kg (36 lb)

Source: Horse Manure Management (2004), Colorado State,
University Cooperative Extension, J.G. Davis and A.M. Swinker

These valuable nutrients can be easily utilized by pasture grasses, gardens (as fertilizer or mulch), as landscaping material or as a liquid fertilizer (compost tea). However, this manure needs to be transformed into a more useable form and one way to accomplish this is through composting. Composting is the best management tool to deal with these mountains of manure and transform them into a valuable fertilizer. A breakdown of the characteristics of many composting materials is listed in the table below.

Table 1. Characteristics of Composting Materials

Material

Nitrogen
(dry wt) (%)

Carbon:
Nitrogen ratio
(dry wt)

Typical
Moisture Content
(%)

Bulk Density
at moisture content
(kg/m3)

Horse Manure with Bedding

  • with straw bedding
  • with shavings

1.4-2.3
1.5
0.9

22-55
27
65

59-79
67
72

725-960

Beef Cattle

  • feedlot with bedding

1.3

-

68

-

Dairy Cattle

  • solid manure handing
  • liquid slurry
  • solids separated from slurry

1.7
2.4-3.6
1.45

18.0
-
-

-
88-95
23

-
-
-

Poultry

  • broiler breeder layer
  • broiler litter
  • turkey litter

3.6
4.7
4.2

10
15
14

46
25
33

470
330
380

Sheep Manure

1.3-3.9

13-20

60-75

-

Fish Scraps & Mortality

6.5-14.2

2.6-5.0

50-81

-

Oat Straw

0.6-1.1

48-98

-

-

Wheat Straw

0.3-0.5

100-150

-

-

Legume Grass hay

1.8-3.6

15-19

10-30

-

Straw

0.3-1.1

48-150

4-27

58-357

Grass Clippings

2.0-6.0

9-25

82

180-260

Grass Clippings & other garden waste

2.0

19.3

15

250

Leaves (freshly fallen)

0.5-1.3

40-80

38

60-80

Paper

0.2-0.25

127-178

18-20

-

Sawdust

0.06-0.8

200-750

19-65

350-450

Woodwaste (chips)

0.04-0.23

212-1313

-

445-620

Source: Composting Factsheet: Characteristics of On-Farm Composting Materials (1996) BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food

When manure is composted it is important to maintain the correct Carbon:Nitrogen (C:N) ratio to support the microorganisms. These microbes require carbon for energy and nitrogen for growth and the ideal C:N ratio is between 25 to 50:1. Horse manure lies in the range of 20-40:1 so when shavings are added this ratio can be thrown out of balance. We need to correct this by combining the appropriate amount of both carbon- and nitrogen-rich materials. The following table gives the Carbon:Nitrogen ratio for a variety of compostable materials.

Material C:N Ratio
horse manure 20-40:1
grass clippings 25:1
horse manure with bedding 30-60:1
grass hay 30-40:1
straw 40-100:1
paper 150-200:1
wood chips, sawdust 200-500:1

Source: Caring for Alberta’s Rural Landscape: Manure and Pasture Management for Horse Owners (2003), Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

A soil testing kit from a local garden retailer can help determine the amount of nitrogen in your compost. If the nitrogen content is too low then you will need to decrease the amount of carbon in your compost pile. Reducing the amount of bedding material or changing the type of bedding can greatly reduce the carbon content of your compost. This is important because spreading compost with too high a carbon level can cause the compost microbes to ‘rob’ your pasture grasses of nitrogen in order to complete the composting process. Obviously, this is the opposite effect of what you want to see happen in your pastures.

One way to determine if your compost is ready for use is if a temperature of at least 55 – 65 degrees Celsius has been maintained for at least 21 days or three weeks. At this point you can be quite confident that the composting process is finished and that weed seeds and parasites have been destroyed. The temperature can easily be monitored with a long composting thermometer purchased from a garden centre.

Sometimes the finished compost doesn’t appear to be broken down, but as long as temperatures have reached the critical point and were maintained for three weeks you can be confident that it is finished. If you prefer the compost to have a finer texture then you can turn the pile a few more times before use. You can also run the compost through a mesh screen to remove the larger materials, which can be added back to the actively composting pile. The final moisture content of the compost should be approximately 50% and feel like a damp wrung-out sponge.

One question often asked is “Why do I need to compost my animals’ manure? Can’t I just spread it raw on the land?” Composting may be slightly more time consuming than working with raw manure, but it will be worth it in the long run. When raw manure is spread onto pastures the nitrogen (N) content tends to volatilize and immobilize, rendering it unusable for microorganisms. In order to replace the N content, the microbes in the compost will ‘suck’ it up from the pasture grasses in order to complete the composting process. Through the act of composting, microbes recycle the nutrients they use and retain them in the compost, which creates a nutrient rich fertilizer source for your pastures.

Also, through spreading composted manure instead of raw manure you can protect local water resources. The run-off (leachate) from raw manure can cause algal blooms and growth of other aquatic plants in nearby streams. When these plants decompose they deplete the water of oxygen content and as many aquatic organisms require oxygen to breathe they are not able to survive in this habitat. In addition, the run-off from manure piles can contaminate your drinking water supply and that of your livestock if the piles are located near a well head or septic field.

Some of the other benefits of using composted manure instead of raw manure are:

• Increased water-holding capacity of your soil

• Destruction of parasite eggs/larvae and weed seeds

• Reduced odour

• Reduced total waste volume

• Reduced money spent on chemical fertilizers and soil amendments

• Easier manure handling

• Provides a great source of fertilizer for your pasture or garden.

Finished compost can be used on pasture grasses to achieve some of the benefits listed above. If the compost is still a bit clumpy when spread then you can run a chain harrow over the top of this to break it down further. You can also use finished compost on gardens and in landscaping as a mulch or soil amendment. It provides a great fertilizer source and will help to keep the weeds down. You can also pass it along to your neighbours and find them begging for more the next year!

References:

Davis, J.G. & Swinker, A.M., 2004, Horse Manure Management, Colorado State, University Cooperative Extension, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/livestk/01219.html

BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, 1996, Composting Factsheet: Characteristics of On-Farm Composting Materials, http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/publist/300series/382500-3.pdf

Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, 2003, Caring for Alberta’s Rural Landscape: Manure and Pasture Management for Horse Owners, http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9377

Article by:
Andrea Lawseth B.Sc. (Agro), A.Ag.
Agricultural Stewardship Coordinator
Langley Environmental Partners Society
Phone: 604-532-3515
Email: info@manuremaiden.com
www.manuremaiden.com
www.leps.bc.ca

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Horse Manure Compost Application Tips and Suggestions (2008)

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Horse manure can provide a great source of nutrients to your pastures and forage. There are a number of benefits to spreading manure compost when compared to raw manure. Nitrogen and other plant nutrients in composted manure are in their organic form and some are not immediately soluble in water. These nutrients are released gradually into the pasture soil providing a slow release fertilizer source. This decreases the risk of immediate leaching and extends the availability of nitrogen throughout the growing season.

Some of the other benefits of adding compost to pastures include:

  • Increased water infiltration
  • Increased water-holding capacity
  • Increased aeration and permeability
  • Increased soil aggregation and rooting depth
  • Decreased soil crusting
  • Decreased soil bulk density
  • Decreased runoff by erosion

Before spreading composted manure onto your pastures it is a good idea to sample it and have it tested in a nearby soil lab. Testing the manure for total nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), ammonium- (NH4+-N) and moisture content will allow you to accurately match the manure application with the pasture needs. Before sampling your manure compost make sure that you check with your local soil lab to see if they have special sampling guidelines they would like you to follow.

In general, you should obtain a representative sample by collecting from 6 to 8 different locations within your manure pile. Make sure that you take samples from both the exterior and the interior of the pile. Next, thoroughly mix the manure samples to break up any clumps and combine them well. Collect a minimum of 3 sub-samples from your representative sample and label well. Ideally, the samples should be analyzed within 24 hours of collection. It is also possible to test the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium content with a simple soil kit from a local garden centre, however, these are not always accurate and soil labs will be able to give you a better idea of appropriate application rates. An over-application of compost can lead to leaching and surface or groundwater pollution, while too little can reduce pasture growth.

Application rates are based on: (1) nutrients required by the plant for optimum growth, (2) nutrients present in the soil, and (3) nutrients available in the compost. The application rate will also depend on field topography, climatic region and soil type so these should be taken into account when spreading. According to the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, manure or a manure/bedding mixture from 3 to 4 horses can be spread on each acre of productive pasture on your land.

Most soil and manure testing labs will supply crop requirement information and application rates in easy to read formats. Once you determine the needs of your pasture grasses the following example calculation will help you determine the appropriate compost spreading rates for your land.

Example for calculating compost application rates

Determine: Compost application rate to supplying 200 kg of N. Given the following compost analysis, which can be obtained through a soil test:

Total N (TKN) 1.59% (or 15,900 ppm)

Mineral N Ammonia (NH4) 1562 ppm

Nitrate (NO3) 672 ppm

Bulk density of compost is 400 kg/m3

Assume: 50% loss of ammonia (NH4-N) (based on research with manures, composts and biosolids)

20% of organic N is available in year of application (based on a range of 10 to 30% from research on composts and biosolids)

Calculation: Total available N in the first year is: available organic + remaining ammonia + nitrate

Total organic N = (TKN - NH4) = 15,900 ppm - 1562 ppm = 13,666 ppm

Available organic N = 13,666 ppm x 20% = 2733 ppm

Remaining NH4 = 1562 x 50% = 781 ppm

Nitrate (NO3) = 672 ppm

Total available N = 2733 ppm + 781 ppm + 672 ppm = 4186 ppm (or 4.18 kg/tonne)

To obtain 200 kg N per ha apply 47.8 tonnes compost per hectare (200 kg N/ha / 4.18 kg N/t) or 47.8 tonnes/ha x 1000 kg/tonne x 1 m3/400 kg = 120 m3/ha

Answer: Therefore, 120 m3/ha of compost can be applied to supply the 200 kg N/ha.

Source: Using Compost, Composting Factsheet (1996), BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food

When spreading manure compost it is important to remember that it should only be spread during the growing season from April to September. Up to 1/3 of fall and winter applied nitrogen in manure may be lost by denitrification, volatilization, leaching and surface runoff during the spring thaw. Only apply a ¼ inch of compost at a time and no more than 3 to 4 applications per year. Reapplication should only occur when the previous layer has worked its way into the soil. For this reason good record-keeping is important.

Additionally, composted manure is lighter and more uniform than raw manure so it is easier to spread. However, there may be some clumping so it is important to harrow or cultivate your pasture after spreading. Seeding can take place shortly after spreading as compost provides a great medium for seed germination.

References:

BC Ministry of Agriculture and Food, 1996, Using Compost, Composting Factsheet,

http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/resmgmt/publist/300series/382500-15.pdf

Article by:

Andrea Lawseth B.Sc. (Agro), A.Ag.
Agricultural Stewardship Coordinator
Langley Environmental Partners Society
Phone: 604-532-3515
Email: info@manuremaiden.com
www.manuremaiden.com
www.leps.bc.ca

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New Liquid Manure Composting Process (2005)

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Making use of what has long been regarded as "waste" by-products of fish processing and poultry operations appears to be a benefit for vegetable crop production and the environment, says the regional co-ordinator of a federal/provincial program designed to raise awareness about agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Compost made from the so-called waste of fish processing and poultry operations and added to the soil appears to produce a 50 to 60 percent increase in vegetable crop yields, compared to crops grown with conventional fertilizer, says Ann Marie Whelan, an agrologist and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) field co-ordinator for the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP).

"Compost appears to produce a range of benefits, not only in the quantity but quality of the crops," she says, referring to results of field demonstrations, comparing yields of cabbage and rutabaga crops grown on David Dwyer's vegetable farm near Shearstown on Newfoundland's Conception Bay.

"In a demonstration completed in 2005, rutabaga and cabbage yields in the Dwyer project were up nearly 60 percent, and the produce had better size and appearance over crops produced with chemical fertilizer," says Whelan. "This project is showing farmers there are opportunities to reduce costs, improve yields and also benefit the environment."

The compost project is one of dozens of demonstrations across the country supported in part by the national GHGMP. Launched in 2003, the program is designed to demonstrate and raise awareness of a wide range of practices that not only benefit production but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment. The soil sector of the GHGMP program is administered nationally by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC). For a full feature report on the project visit the SCCC website at www.soilcc.ca

Blending a combination of crab shells and offal and poultry manure - the by-products of local farming and fishing activities - produces a nutrient-rich soil amendment that reduces reliance on chemical fertilizer. Soil testing, plant tissue testing and compost nutrient analysis were used to determine the proper compost application rates.

"Replacing chemical fertilizer with compost reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the manufacture of fertilizer. Burning fuel contributes to greenhouse gas emissions," says Whelan. "And better matching nutrients to crop requirements reduces the risk of fertilizer over-application. Using poultry manure and crab processing waste in compost reduces the impact of these materials on the environment."

The compost comparison was carried out on a one-acre plot that was just part of Dwyer's 70-acre vegetable farm on Newfoundland's east coast about 80 kilometres from St. John's. Dwyer produces a range of crops including carrots, cabbage, rutabaga and beets, which are sold at the farm gate and through local retailers.

"These are dramatic yield increases in the 55 to 60 percent range," says Whelan. "The vegetables also appeared to have better size, color and less blight and less clubroot, making for a superior product over crops grown with chemical fertilizer."

Whelan also noted in a region where drought, in recent years, has reduced yields and wiped out crops, fields treated with compost had improved moisture retention and were better able to withstand the dry conditions.

While reducing crop input costs and increasing yields are important economic benefits, compost also has a proven track record for increasing soil organic matter, which improves soil quality and carbon sequestration in the long term.

For more information, contact:

Ann Marie Whelan
GHGMP Field Co-ordinator
Phone: (709) 747- 13781

Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, Sask.
Phone: (306) 695-4212

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The Scoop on Compost (2008)

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Creating compost is not rocket science, but using it requires a scientific approach to maximize its benefits

There was a time when spreading ‘well rotted manure’ on land was seen as an easy way to reduce the pile behind the barn and, certainly, help out the crop. Then science enabled growers to balance crop nutrition with commercial fertilizer and the pile behind the barn was left to rot. Now, given our concern for the environment and a recognition that some of the old ways had their place in crop production, research is demonstrating how compost can be an important component of best management practices.

“At first it didn’t seem the economics were right to create and use compost,” comments Dr. Katherine Buckley of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Brandon, Manitoba. Then the cost of commercial fertilizer began to increase and the environment became an issue, and agriculture came under scrutiny by some groups. As always, growers themselves wanted to be more active in preserving the environment and compost became more interesting.

“Our experiments are in the eighth year and we are starting to see the possibilities for using compost effectively,” Dr. Buckley continues. “Compost works well with all crops except flax, is easier to transport to the field because volume is reduced by about 75 percent, and it does not have the odour and insect problem that comes with manure.” When a starter nitrogen application is used in conjunction with compost, according to Dr. Buckley, it can be an extremely effective crop production tool. There are

“We’ve done work on soil reclamation in the oil and gas industry and, of the combinations we examined, compost worked the best,” says Dr. Frank Larney, a researcher with AAFC in Lethbridge, Alberta. “We looked at using compost as a replacement for top soil that was removed from well sites beginning in 1997.” After four years of growing crop on the reclaimed soil the project was turned back to the land’s owner for production. In 2007, Larney and his colleagues re-examined the soils to see if the reclamation had been sustained. He expects results on these tests to be available in 2008. Using this example, he suggests that compost has some very real benefits when used on ‘at risk’ areas of fields, such as knolls and sections where erosion is a problem.microbial benefits with compost and it can restore degraded soils.Photo By Peter Darbishire.

Larney and Buckley see compost as an important additive to any cropping system, particularly on marginal land, property with erosion problems and for crops that require more organic matter. However, the challenges facing growers who want to begin using compost as part of their regular crop production practices are the creation of the compost and short-term yield reductions that can occur when moving to a strategic combination of compost and commercial fertility products.

Creating compost can be simple or complex depending on the time and effort willingly expended on the operation. In the old days, manure was left to rot with no intervention on the part of the farmer. While this method will result in compost, the end product may not be desirable as weed seeds may still exist in the mix. Larney says that in order to create a uniform product that is free of weed seeds and pathogens, the mix needs to reach a temperature of 55 degrees C or better for up to two weeks. The temperature is achieved by adding oxygen to the manure by aerating it or turning it and mixing it. “Achieving the right temperature is important to create a sanitized product,” he explains.

Again, the process can be simple or demanding. A front-end loader can be used to mix the pile depending on its size; in very small operations this may be the most economical. PTO driven windrow turners that mount on a tractor can effectively turn 400 tonnes of material per hour are also available. For very large operations, such as feedlots, a self-propelled turner may be the most effective equipment to use. In the end, there is an economic balance between the time and energy required to turn the manure to create compost and the savings in reduced reliance on commercial fertilizers and the yield that can result from an improved soil profile.

“The costs of creating and using compost, rather than raw manure, can be offset by reduced transportation costs due to the large reduction in volume of material that occurs during the composting process,” Buckley explains. “The most costly part of getting into compost is developing a proper site to accomplish the task by ensuring an impermeable surface under the pile and a means to manage run-off.” Certainly, there may be some capital costs, she adds, but that will be amortized over time.

In terms of yield reductions that can occur when compost is used as a fertilizer replacement, Buckley suggests this is a short-term issue which can be managed by balancing the nutrition in the compost with commercial products. “I prefer to consider compost as a phosphorus product and not the main nitrogen source,” she says. In fact, she recommends that nitrogen be applied in conjunction with compost. “Combined with commercial fertilizer, compost nutrition can be optimized if the mixture is right.”

In an eight year crop production study conducted at the AAFC Research Station in Brandon, beef manure compost with and without starter nitrogen were compared to commercial fertilizer in the first four years of a durum wheat, flax and barley rotation. In the last four years of the study, annual and perennial forages and winter wheat were grown without any additional nutrients to determine the capacity of a compost addition to sustain crop production and develop a measure of the true value of compost. The results were not earth-shattering, but savings on commercial fertilizers were substantial.

“We did get improved yield without the use of commercial fertilizer,” Buckley explains. “The cost benefit is there, but it takes a number of years before it shows. However, the result of using compost on poor soils is incredible and definitely worth considering.” A complete economic analysis of this particular research is being tabulated, but there is documented research that shows an economic benefit of using compost in potato production and during a one year in three application of compost in wheat or barley. So far, the Manitoba research has focussed on cereals and forage, but the next step will be an analysis of compost use with canola.\

Growers wanting to work compost into their cropping operations should follow some simple guidelines for success. Larney suggests testing for the presence and amount of nutrients in the compost, test the soil for nutrients, compare the results with the requirements of the crop being planned and then try to balance the compost’s available nutrition with the addition of commercial nutrients. “If your soil tests high with nitrogen or phosphorus, it may not be wise to put compost on that field,” he says.

“The best place for compost is land that is eroded or in need of improved organic matter.” He adds that field mapping will indicate areas in a field that would benefit from compost application. Larney views compost as a soil amendment to improve soil quality and not as a complete source of nutrition. “Compost improves the properties of soil to allow the soil to hold water and enable better access to nutrition,” he says.

Grandpa may have had the right idea about transporting the pile from behind the barn to the field, but modern technology and science have made the process much more effective. In a world obsessing about carbon foot printing and the need to produce more food, using compost may help in both those areas while maintaining a grower’s competitive edge. Considering the long-term, proven benefits of compost application on fields and the environmental sustainability that can result, the effort to make compost may be worthwhile.

A compost primer

Compost is the result of manure decomposition. In nature, this will happen naturally, but farmers can speed the process by doing the following:

1. Prepare a site for composting to minimize any environmental problems. A preferred location would have an impermeable base, either hard clay soils or a cement pad. As well, some consideration for minimizing effects of run-off should be made, such as a sloped drainage ditch.

2. Pile the manure in windrows or small piles on the base.

3. Turn or mix the piles periodically to encourage decomposition.

4. Ensure a temperature of the compost of 55 degrees C for at least two weeks.

5. When compost has a dry, crumbly texture, has a low carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (13:1 to 10:1), low oxygen demand, low temperature and earthy odour, it is ready to spread on the soil.

Depending on the size of the pile or windrow, the number of times it is turned and the air temperature and amount of moisture, compost could be ready in about three months. For more comprehensive instructions on how to make compost, the On-Farm Composting Handbook by Robert Rynk, published by Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, Ithaca, New York, is considered the ‘Bible’ of composting instruction.

Article by: Rosalie I. Tennison, Top Crop Manager – March 2008

https://topcropmanager.annexweb.com/content/view/1359/

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What is Composting? (2009)

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Composting is a natural biological process, carried out under controlled conditions, which converts organic material into a stable humus-like product called compost. During the composting process, various micro-organisms, including bacteria and fungi, break down organic material into simpler substances.

Why does composting matter?

Making compost is inexpensive and reduces the need for buying synthetic fertilizers. Compost is biologically active, supplying a range of micro-organisms that enhance the health of both soil and crops.

Incorporating good compost into a garden makes the soil improves the quality (or health) of soil for producing healthy plants. It helps plants develop stronger root systems so they can take up more nutrients and be more productive. Soil with lots of organic matter also resists erosion.

Adding composts to soils can improve their water holding capacity and reduce the need to fertilize, resulting in a more productive soil. This can significantly lower irrigation requirements.

Composting helps bring much of what we consume back to the earth, while preventing organic material from unnecessarily ending up in landfills. Composting can play an important role in the integrated waste management plans of any community.

Approximately 50% of the waste in landfills is organic matter. BC’s main fruit-growing regions are near large urban areas as well as poultry farms, both excellent sources of organic material for composting.

Sarah Godin
Regional Communications Officer, AAFC
(604) 666-3679 sarah.godin@agr.gc.ca

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