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Should I compost?

Rob Freeland
Decision Case Study
Agroecology Internship 2003

The Situation: A livestock farmer has excess manure after spreading it on his/her cropland in the spring and he/she also has some extra hay from the previous season which needs to be removed from the barn in order to make room for new hay. The farm has basic manure handling equipment; a tractor used to pull the manure spreader, and a tractor with a loader to load the manure spreader. The farmer has seen composting operations in their travels and has seen them on the internet. They have all the materials necessary to begin and manage a compost program.

The Question: Should the farmer actively pursue a small scale composting program or should they just pile the extra material they have somewhere on the farm?

The Options: Pile it somewhere on the farm and lose the nutrients in the manure to leaching; and go to the pile to get material when it is needed for fertilization.

OR

Export it off farm to another farm possibly, or to a commercial compost facility.

OR

Take the manure spreader and make windrows, long piles no wider then the width of the manure spreader and roughly 30’ long. Then twice a month take the bucket tractor and load the piles into the spreader and form new windrows. This promotes decomposition and also reduces the odors produced by the anaerobic bacteria which produce hydrogen sulfide, which is what we smell when manure is spread.

The Benefits: The material which comes out of the compost piles is stable, doesn’t smell, and is nutrient rich. Composting also allows storage of manure without the loss of nutrients into the ground water through leaching.

The Disadvantages: This process increases wear on the machines involved with the turning and mixing process. Another disadvantage is that two days out of the month are spent turning compost instead of working on other farm projects.