There’s potential for much more composting in North American farming, say researchers at the University of Manitoba.
“Turning waste into gold” was the theme for the annual field day at the U of M’s Glenlea Research Farm last week.
Mario Tenuta, soil ecologist at the University of Manitoba, describes the value of farm-scale composting of manure, livestock bedding and other organic matter that accumulates both on and off of farms in the video below.
He lists at least seven benefits from composting, both in the short- and long-term:
- Improve soil health — composting produces humus, which increases organic matter in soil, improves water-holding capacity, enhances microbial growth and other measurements of soil health.
- Stabilize nitrogen (reduced N volatilization) — by bonding to carbon, nitrogen is converted into an organic, slow-release compound. “For example, dry chicken manure, if that gets wet, it will become odourous and you’ll have volatilization of ammonia. Being able to compost it is one way of keeping it in a stabilized form,” explains Tenuta.
- Reduce odours — under proper anaerobic conditions, composting can quickly make manure less smelly.
- Reduce volume — composting reduces volume by approximately two-thirds, making manure, livestock bedding or waste easier and more cost effecitve to transport.
- Destroy pathogens — the high temperatures created during proper composting can kill weed seeds and microorganisms.
- Provide nutrients for organic (and conventional!) production — compost is a critical source of nutrients in organic farming. If composted properly, manure from animals fed genetically modified grain can be used in organic production.
- Divert from landfills nutrients in urban and municipal waste — in the long-term, recycling of nutrients will become more important, says Tenuta. “We’re part of a massive amount of nutrient movement locally and globally, and so we have to think about our place in that. Putting things to landfills just isn’t going to cut it,” he notes. “I think it’s inevitable that we have to tighten up our recycling and getting those nutrients out of urban areas back onto the land and I think composting a means of that.”
For more on how to compost manure, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture has a thorough overview here.