Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter

Winter 2000

Compost is changing the attitude toward waste

by Tracy S. Petersen, freelance associate

When Stacie Johnson went into the composting business, she thought her days would be filled with converting manure to a rich organic compound and selling it to customers. She didn’t anticipate that she’d fill much of her time with educational activities such as workshops, interviews, and answers to calls about making compost.

“I’m actually representing a fundamental change,” said the Cedar Rapids woman, who calls her business Organic Matters. The change Stacie strives to make is helping people see manure as a nutrient and soil builder, and not strictly as fertilizer.

Among livestock producers, Stacie talks about manure as a resource. She equates it to a seed or a calf that must be nurtured to produce a valuable end product. To her customers, she speaks about the multiple benefits of compost and organic matter.

The compost Stacie creates is generated from a stable with 47 horses. Each year the stable provides 4,000 to 5,000 cubic yards of manure mixed with sawdust shavings. To reduce the woodiness of the compost, Stacie mixes the horse manure with manure from a nearby dairy. She has a ready supply—the dairy produces 3,000 pounds of manure each day.

Stacie uses three manure management methods. In the first, she composts the horse manure with a static pile for 12 to 18 months. It is then sold as a soil builder.

In the second method, Stacie mixes fresh horse manure with dairy manure and introduces it to an in-vessel digester The manure mixture remains in the digester for 4 days, where the microbial activity heats the material to 150oF.

Stacie’s third method, vermiculture, involves placing the compost in worm beds—700 pounds of worms (1,000 worms per pound). The result is a rich organic compound good for everything from boosting tomatoes and starting seeds to improving lawns and agricultural fields. The castings are too expensive to be applied to agricultural fields.

The compost particularly benefits agricultural producers by enriching the land. Manure that is being composted has less odor than that which is stored, and has an earthy odor when it is applied to the land. It decreases pollution, reduces weed seeds (they are killed in the composting process), and improves the soil’s ability to hold water in drought or wet periods.

“This is a great option for agricultural producers,” Johnson said. “If they don’t take the compost to the field they can sell it.” Finished compost has a current market value of $10 to $500 per yard, depending on the process and packaging.

Stacie sells her compost in increments from a bucket to semi-loads. The smallest increments of worm castings, which she calls Heavenly Humus, are sold as Buckets of Blessings for Plants and Plant Lovers. These are available at her small retail shop and in some garden centers in central and eastern Iowa.

Stacie also sells bulk compost from her facility at Four Oaks Farm and Stable in Robins. Many of her customers are homeowners, who purchase 2 to 6 cubic yards of compost at a time. Landscapers purchase 10 times that much and haul theirs away by the semi truck.

Stacie, who calls herself an “entre-manure,” started her business in September 1999. With a solid product in place, she is now concentrating on market development. “I’m attempting to educate a whole industry, so more people will understand this,” she said. And she’s optimistic. “I really see the potential for transforming a rural surplus, manure, into a value-added product. I’m an environmentalist at heart, but I know it has to make economic sense. What I’m trying to do is find the balance.”

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Iowa Manure Matters: Odor and Nutrient Management is published by Iowa State University Extension, with funding support from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service through Cooperative Agreement No. 74-6114-8-22. To subscribe or change the address of a current subscription, write to Angela Rieck-Hinz, 2104 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011-1010 or call 515-294-9590, fax 515-294-9985 or email: amrieck@iastate.edu. Please indicate you are inquiring about the Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter. The newsletter's coordinators are Angela Rieck-Hinz, extension program specialist, Department of Agronomy, Wendy Powers, environmental extension specialist, Department of Animal Science, and Robert Burns, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; the editor is Jean McGuire, the subscription manager is Rachel Klein, the production designer is Beth Kroeschell, and the web page designer is Liisa Jarvinen.

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