Article Summary:

Every farm produces tons of waste that, under controlled decomposition, can be converted into bio-fertilizer. There are various advantages and disadvantages associated with compost making. Many farmers are questioning whether compost making for the dairy farm is worth the effort. Let’s find out today!

Farm compost is decomposed organic matter. On-farm composting enables farmers to utilize a wide range of farm wastes while looking after the land. The nutrients in the organic waste thus are returned to the soil.

Compost looks like fertile garden soil, and it smells like earth. Dairy farmers across Australia are increasingly interested in cost-effective, environment friendly, and practical use of farm wastes. For many farms, compost making is a better alternative to chemical fertilizers.

Composting is not a new concept. You may know how good your grandfather was making controlled compost, for keeping the soil healthy and avoiding methane emissions from uncontrolled decomposition.

Bravo to your grandpa! Good quality compost improves nutrient recycling, soil fertility, and enhances crop health. An added benefit is the reduced use of chemical fertilizer which is often associated with high utilization costs.

Today, we will explore organic farm wastes that can be turned into compost, the nutrient content of compost, the advantages and disadvantages of making and using compost on your farm. A lot of time and effort goes into making healthy and good quality compost.

Many farmers are questioning whether compost making for the dairy farm is worth the effort. Let’s find out together.

What do they mean by Compost?

We see organic matter naturally decomposing in our surroundings but that decomposition does not make compost. Compost is the result of the controlled decomposition of organic matter carried out by microbes in the presence of oxygen. Controlled composting is a fast process as compared to the natural decomposition of organic matter.

Microorganisms consume food waste in the presence of oxygen and produce heat and carbon dioxide. This heat (approx. 55 C) raises the compost temperature, accelerates the composting process, and kills harmful bacteria and pathogens.

At the end of the composting process, we get a small volume of highly nutritious and stable dirt like compound, the compost!

What organic wastes can be used for making compost?

Compost making on the farm may utilize rather huge quantities of organic wastes.

Many on-farm wastes can be used, such as hay residue, manure, food scraps, kitchen waste, dead leaves, etc. Farmers use high carbon and low nitrogen wastes. These include fouled bedding, woodchips, tree bark, spoilt hay and silage. Manure and carcasses can also be composted to reduce their foul odour.

Advantages of using compost on the farm

The best thing about making compost on your farm is that all the raw material is available to you and you are efficiently employing your farm wastes to serve the soil. Hats off to you!

Below are some of the advantages you may accrue by using compost on your farm:

  1. Compost returns the nutrients to the soil. It is easy to handle, can be transported and stored with relative ease.
  2. The heat produced during the composting process kills the pathogens and parasites along with weed seeds.
  3. Compost makes the soil safe and stable in nutrients.
  4. Compost increases the soil’s capacity to hold moisture
  5. Compost provides a liming effect on soil and also increases soil’s buffering capacity
  6. High carbon and low nitrogen wastes are efficiently used and returned to the soil.
  7. Improves fertility, structure, and performance of the soil.
  8. Compost reduces soil erosion.
  9. The use of compost lowers the need for the application of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.
  10. Increases carbon sequestration which helps fight climate change.

You may need additional equipment for turning and processing compost depending on the size of your farm operation

You may need additional equipment for turning and processing compost depending on the size of your farm operation.

Disadvantages of using compost on the farm

With good advantages come challenges and threats. Some of these are;

  1. A good amount of time, effort, and equipment is required in compost making.
  2. Compost making and storage requires a dedicated area. It can take up to 2 hectares of an area on dairy farms.
  3. Although organic matter needed for compost making is available in farms, there are additional materials required to make the compost suitable.
  4. During the composting process, a loss of 30 to 60% in volume occurs as a result of decomposition.
  5. Composting lowers the percentage of nitrogen around 40-50% and of carbon 50-70%.
  6. For starters, the fertilizer value of the compost might be less.
  7. There is a possibility that poorly made compost may contain toxic compounds.
  8. Immature compost negatively affects plant growth and microbes present in such compost may use up nitrogen available in the soil, thus depriving the plant of nutrients.

What is the basic nutrient value of a good compost?

Compost, a biofertilizer, is different from a conventional fertilizer and ought to be treated as such. It has low nutrient content and it slowly releases them into the soil. Adding compost will not drastically change the soil composition, but gradually support the soil.

The nutrient content of compost heavily depends on;

  • Composition of raw organic matter and
  • Composting process.

The nutrient content of a typically made dry farm compost is;

  • Nitrogen 1-2%
  • Phosphorus 0.2-1%
  • Potassium 0.5-1%
  • Carbon 30%

Compost makes available nutrients slowly over the year. A well-made compost can have 3-5% nitrogen readily available while 5-10% additional nitrogen over a year.

Wait, What if I apply the organic matter without composting?

Well, you can apply organic matter of low carbon and high nitrogen content directly to the soil. It is an effective and cheaper method as compared to composting. Most farmers apply them directly to the growing plants or mix them in the soil to reduce nitrogen loss.

However, for an organic matter of high carbon and low nitrogen content, such as spoilt hay or bedding, composting them first to increase their efficiency is a better option to avoid any problems.

Things to consider before compost making

We have said this before, each farm is different and unique. Before employing the compost making for your farm, consider some general points.

  • Which organic raw material is frequently available on your farm. Use direct method if possible, else make compost.
  • Location of compost site. Compost shrinks in volume and it's cheaper to transport long distances.
  • Ensure that farm management has time, expertise, and equipment to make good compost.
  • If possible, make a third party contract for compost making.
  • Ensure you have access to additional materials needed to make good and stable compost.

With all things listed, I’d say making compost is worth it. However, there is a caution to be practised by farm management. Compost making reduces the emission of methane which is 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide and contributes heavily to the greenhouse effect.

Farms across Australia are also engaged in carbon credit trading under Emissions Reduction Fund methodologies which is financially beneficial. Isn’t that great?

This brings us to the end of the article.

Until we meet again, Happy Composting!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2021-11-10