Composting wet hay

Composting Spoiled Hay

In recent years many areas of Australia have been impacted by heavy rains and flooding spoiling hay and crops, Composting has been found to have the greatest potential to return some benefit to the farm and this is the focus of this fact sheet by Declan McDonald, Kevin Wilkinson and Sally Stead from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

What is compost?

Aerobic composting is the rapid decomposition of organic materials into a humus-rich product ideally suited to soil improvement. High temperatures are naturally generated during the composting process resulting in the destruction of any weed seeds and pathogens that may be present in the raw organic materials.

Why do it?

If your farm produces sizeable quantities of ‘waste’ materials each year (e.g. spoiled hay, silage, manures etc.), then composting is a good way of improving your soil and extracting extra value from what was previously often regarded as waste.

Compost contains valuable nutrients and is rich in humus. Humus is long-lasting in the soil and can be beneficial in providing for improved physical, chemical and biological conditions.

How to compost anything!

This photograph shows the compost window

Figure 1. A compost windrow

While there are numerous composting methods available, the most simple and cost effective for farmers is the ‘Turned Windrow’ method. This involves piling organic materials in correct proportions, and with adequate moisture, in rows on a suitable surface and then mixing well. The dimensions of the windrow depend on the types of materials being composted, the space available and equipment being used. For a manure-based operation, the height of the windrow will be typically around 1.5m, with the base at two to three metres wide. The length of the row can be as long as space permits (Figure 1).

Many farm wastes (e.g. manure, hay, silage, sawdust) can be composted with minimal pre-treatment. Other wastes that become available from time to time (e.g. woody wastes) may need to be chopped up because they are too coarse. Once the wastes are correctly mixed in the right proportions, and at the right moisture content, the composting process will begin.

Composting is a biological process, carried out by microorganisms that are naturally present in the environment – so no special inoculants are required. All you need to do is provide organic materials in the right proportions, with moisture, and the microbes will do the rest!

Understanding the conditions required by the composting microbes is paramount to successful composting. Microorganisms have three basic needs and when these are provided the composting process will proceed and the mix will heat up. These needs are:

  1. oxygen
  2. adequate moisture
  3. suitable food supply.

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Large scale composting

Improving soil with compost and cover

Improving soil with compost and ground covers is easy, you can make your own compost. In fact, you may be throwing away the materials you need to make this valuable resource. As an alternative, you can purchase compost and soil conditioners in bags or by the truck load from dealers. This can get a little expensive, especially considering compost should be added each year to Improve the soil but it’s worth it.

Composting is simply the act of helping natural materials such as leaves, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps to break down. Composting methods can be grouped into two categories: passive or active. Passive composting methods allow nature to do most of the work, but take a lot longer to get a finished product. In passive composting, raw materials such as leaves, straw, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps are stacked into a free standing pile or placed inside a composting bin and allowed to break down on their own over the course of two to three years. This method produces good compost, just not very quickly.

Active composting can produce ready to use compost in as little as two months, but takes more work on your part. In active composting, raw materials are made into a pile similar to passive composting, but then the pile is turned every week to encourage rapid break down.

To build a compost heap, pile green and brown materials in 3”- 4” thick alternating layers in a free standing pile or inside a compost bin. Examples of brown materials include leaves, straw, newspapers, and wood chips. Green materials include vegetable scraps, grass clippings, plant debris, coffee grinds, and animal manure, but avoid pest waste, which can contain harmful bacteria. A few other things that should not be added to compost piles include meat and bone scraps, dairy products, grease or oil, perennial weed roots like Florida betony or dollarweed, and diseased plants, since the pile may not reach high enough temperatures to kill plant disease organisms.

Make sure to water each layer as you stack it so the finished pile has the moisture content of a damp sponge. Turn the pile every 5 to 7 days until you can no longer recognise any of the original materials because they have all broken down to a crumbly brown soil like consistency that has an earthy smell. This should take two to three months. To mix compost into the improving soil, spread a layer over the surface and then till in 150mm to 200mm deep.

COVER CROPS

Green manures are cover crops that are seeded directly into empty garden areas, allowed to grow for several weeks until they reach bloom stage, and are then tilled into the soil. Tilling crops into the soil adds nutrients and increases organic matter, and is much like growing compost directly.

 

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Written By

N.C. Cooperative Extension

NC State University and N.C. A&T State University work in tandem, along with
US federal, state and local governments, to form a strategic partnership
called the N.C. Cooperative Extension

 

 

nitrate chemicals from farm fertilisers are polluting the rocks beneath our feet

Nitrate fertilisers a pollution timebomb

Researchers at the British Geological Survey say Nitrate fertilisers are a pollution timebomb that could have severe global-scale consequences for rivers, water supplies, human health and the economy.

They say huge quantities of nitrate chemicals from farm fertilisers are polluting the rocks beneath our feet, a study says over time the nitrate will be released from the rocks into rivers via springs. That will cause toxic algal blooms and fish deaths, and will cost industry and consumers billions of pounds a year in extra water treatment.

In a paper in Nature Communications, the scientists from BGS and Lancaster University estimate that up to 180 million tonnes of nitrate are stored in rocks worldwide – perhaps twice the amount stored in soils.  They say this is the first global estimate of the amount of nitrate trapped between the soil layer and the water-bearing aquifers below. They warn that over time the nitrate will inevitably slowly seep into the aquifers.

 

The EU is trying to clamp down on careless application of nitrates but farmers say the fertilisers are vital for agricultural productivity.

The UK government has said all EU environmental laws will be brought into British law after Brexit. But a legal taskforce set up by the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) to examine the risks of Brexit identified nitrate pollution as an example of the protections that will be at risk when European laws are rolled over into domestic legislation in 2019.

 

Soil organisms are essential for keeping plants well supplied with nutrients because they break down organic matter.

Why Building Organic matter in soil Is Important

Beneficial Effects of Soil Organisms

Soil organisms are essential for building soil organic matter and  keeping plants well supplied with nutrients because they break down organic matter. These organisms make nutrients available by freeing them from organic molecules. Some bacteria fix nitrogen gas from the atmosphere, making it available to plants. Other organisms dissolve minerals and make phosphorus more available. If soil organisms aren’t present and active, more fertilizers will be needed to supply plant nutrients. A varied community of organisms is your best protection against major pest outbreaks and soil fertility problems. A soil rich in organic matter and continually supplied with different types of fresh residues is home to a much more diverse group of organisms than soil depleted of organic matter. This greater diversity of organisms helps insure that fewer potentially harmful organisms will be able to develop sufficient populations to reduce crop yields.

Soil Tilth

By building soil organic matter, soil has a favorable physical condition for growing plants, it is said to have good tilth. Such a soil is porous and allows water to enter easily, instead of running off the surface. More water is stored in the soil for plants to use between rains, and less erosion occurs. Good tilth also means that the soil is well aerated. Roots can easily obtain oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. A porous soil does not restrict root development and exploration. When a soil has poor tilth, the soil’s structure deteriorates and soil aggregates break down, causing increased compaction and decreased aeration and water storage. A soil layer can become so compacted that roots can’t grow. A soil with excellent physical properties will have numerous channels and pores of many different sizes.
Studies on both undisturbed and agricultural soils show that when building soil organic matter, soils tend to be less compact and have more space for air passage and water storage. Sticky substances are produced during the decomposition of plant residues. Along with plant roots and fungal hyphae, they bind mineral particles together into clumps, or aggregates. In addition, the sticky secretions of mycorrhizal fungi—beneficial fungi that enter roots and help plants get more water and nutrients—are important binding material in soils. The arrangement and collection of minerals as aggregates and the degree of soil compaction have huge effects on plant growth (see chapters 5 and 6). The development of aggregates is desirable in all types of soils because it promotes better drainage, aeration, and water storage. The one exception is for wetland crops, such as rice, when you want a dense, puddled soil to keep it flooded.

Building soil organic matter, as residue on the soil surface or as a binding agent for aggregates near the surface, plays an important role in decreasing soil erosion. Surface residues intercept raindrops and decrease their potential to detach soil particles. These surface residues also slow water as it flows across the field, giving it a better chance to infiltrate into the soil. Aggregates and large channels greatly enhance the ability of soil to conduct water from the surface into the subsoil.

Most farmers can tell that one soil is better than another by looking at them, seeing how they work up when tilled, or even by sensing how they feel when walked on or touched. What they are seeing or sensing is really good tilth. For an example, see the photo on the back cover of this book. It shows that soil differences can be created by different management strategies. Farmers and gardeners would certainly rather grow their crops on the more porous soil depicted in the photo on the right.

Since erosion tends to remove the most fertile part of the soil, it can cause a significant reduction in crop yields. In some soils, the loss of just a few inches of topsoil may result in a yield reduction of 50%. The surface of some soils low in organic matter may seal over, or crust, as rainfall breaks down aggregates and pores near the surface fill with solids. When this happens, water that can’t infiltrate into the soil runs off the field, carrying valuable topsoil Large soil pores, or channels, are very important because of their ability to allow a lot of water to flow rapidly into the soil. Larger pores are formed in a number of ways. Old root channels may remain open for some time after the root decomposes. Larger soil organisms, such as insects and earthworms, create channels as they move through the soil. The mucus that earthworms secrete to keep their skin from drying out also helps to keep their channels open for a long time.

Protection of the Soil against Rapid Changes in Acidity

Acids and bases are released as minerals dissolve and organisms go about their normal functions of decomposing organic materials or fixing nitrogen. Acids or bases are excreted by the roots of plants, and acids form in the soil from the use of nitrogen fertilizers. It is best for plants if the soil acidity status, referred to as pH, does not swing too wildly during the season. The pH scale is a way of expressing the amount of free hydrogen (H+) in the soil water. More acidic conditions, with greater amounts of hydrogen, are indicated by lower numbers. A soil at pH 4 is very acid. Its solution is ten times more acid than a soil at pH 5. A soil at pH 7 is neutral—there is just as much base in the water as there is acid. Most crops do best when the soil is slightly acid and the pH is around 6 to 7. Essential nutrients are more available to plants in this pH range than when soils are either more acidic or more basic. Soil organic matter is able to slow down, or buffer, changes in pH by taking free hydrogen out of solution as acids are produced or by giving off hydrogen as bases are produced.

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Unlocking soil’s potential to mitigate global warming, improve crop yields and increase resilience to extreme weather.

Compost holds potential to slow global warming

By using compost, the land under our feet and the plant matter it contains could offset a significant amount of carbon emissions if managed properly.

More research is needed to unlock soil’s potential to mitigate global warming, improve crop yields and increase resilience to extreme weather.

Two published and overlapping papers Oct. 5 in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics and Global Change Biology, emphasizes the need for more research into how soil – if managed well – could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

Slowing-global-warming


If you want to do something about global warming, look under your feet. Managed well, soil’s ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated, according to Stanford researchers who claim the resource could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions. They call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about this valuable resource.

The work, published in two overlapping papers Oct. 5 in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics and Global Change Biology, emphasizes the need for more research into how soil – if managed well – could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

“Dirt is not exciting to most people,” said Earth system science professor Rob Jackson, lead author of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics article and co-author of the Global Change Biology paper. “But it is a no-risk climate solution with big co-benefits. Fostering soil health protects food security and builds resilience to droughts, floods and urbanization.”

Humble, yet mighty

Organic matter in soil, such as decomposing plant and animal residues, stores more carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. Unfortunately, the carbon in soil has been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices, fires, nitrogen deposition and other human activities. The greatest near-term threat comes from thawing permafrost in Earth’s northern reaches, which could release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Despite these risks, there is also great promise, according to Jackson and Jennifer Harden, a visiting scholar in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and lead author of the Global Change Biology paper.

Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost, the researchers find. Among the possible approaches: reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage and compost application. Planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground.

Jackson, Harden and their colleagues also found that about 70 percent of all sequestered carbon in the top meter of soil is in lands directly affected by agriculture, grazing or forest management – an amount that surprised the authors.

“I think if beer bets were involved, we all would have lost,” Harden said of her co-authors.

Jackson and his co-authors found a number of other surprises in their analysis. For example, plant roots are five times more likely than leaves to turn into soil organic matter for the same mass of material. The study also provides the most complete estimate yet of carbon in peatland and permafrost – almost half of the world’s estimated soil carbon.

“Retaining and restoring soil organic matter helps farmers grow better crops, purifies our water and keeps the atmosphere cleaner,” said Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Stanford University, Stanford, California - Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

 

 

By Rob Jordan
October 5, 2017

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2017 State of Organics Recycling

The US now has over 4,713 active composting facilities

According to BioCycle the US now has over 4,713 Organic Recycling facilities,  BioCycle editors collected the most recent data has United States had compiled about organics recycling activities. A one-page questionnaire was completed by 43 states and the District of Columbia, primarily by officials in state solid waste agencies whose responsibilities include organics recycling. Data submitted was from Calendar Years 2015-2017.

2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. snapshot surveyThe 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. survey requested information on both composting and anaerobic digestion infrastructure and regulations. While several solid waste agency officials who responded had data on anaerobic digestion activity in their state, the majority did not, as municipal and on-farm anaerobic digestion operations typically fall under the purview of other state agencies. As a result, BioCycle utilized other sources to collect data on anaerobic digestion.

The Big Picture

The 2017 State of Organics Recycling In The U.S. snapshot survey found a total of 4,713 composting facilities. Table 1 breaks down that total number by facility types. Yard trimmings composting represents the largest number of operations in the U.S. — 2,698 or 57.2 percent of all facilities in the U.S. There are 249 composting sites that process yard trimmings and food scraps, and 620 that process multiple organics, which include feedstocks such as yard trimmings, food scraps, livestock manure and industrial organics. Massachusetts, for example, reports 185 composting facilities processing multiple organics and did not include any sites in the yard trimmings only or yard trimmings and food scraps only categories.

As noted, data on anaerobic digestion facilities came primarily from other sources — the U.S. EPA AgSTAR database for farm digestion (last updated in August 2017), the Water Environment Federation database on anaerobic digesters at municipal wastewater treatment plants (2014 data), and the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation for data on codigestion at wastewater treatment plants (2016 data). Only four of the 43 states completing the survey provided their own AD data.

 

https://www.biocycle.net/

 

 

 

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Richard Hawkes was working as an agronomist when he decided to grow a small trial patch of potatoes using compost

Using Compost to improve crop yields

Richard Hawkes was working as an agronomist when he decided to grow a small trial patch of potatoes using compost to improve crop yields on his family’s 56ha property at Boneo, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Now that patch has grown into 16ha with seven varieties — about 80 per cent of which is sold through Sydney and Melbourne wholesale markets, with the remainder sold through a farmgate shop — in ­addition to their crops of carrots, spring onions, parsley and radish. From from next year they will lease an additional 6ha of land. Given the soil is sandy, Richard said he works hard to retain moisture and nutrients, with crop rotation key to high yields.

“A Compost spreader is an expensive piece of machinery
but in the long-term I believe it will pay for itself,
because we’ll have happy worms, grow better crops
and make more money,” Richard said.

An ideal two-yearly paddock rotation would start with a green-manure crop of broccoli. In the past a break crop has been caliente mustard, but this year Richard has leased land to broccoli growers, in order to get a harvestable crop that provides a boost to ­organic matter and breaks the weed cycle. Broccoli is grown for eight weeks, followed by potatoes, then carrots, spring onions, and radish, then repeated.

SOIL TESTING TIME

SOIL is tested annually for ­nutrition and an agronomist advises on soil needs. “As much as I’d love to be hands on, working as an agronomist, my role is now as a generalist.” With an annual average rainfall of 450mm, soil is constantly monitored for moisture, with solid set computer-controlled irrigation applying both bore water and class a ­recycled water from the Eastern Treatment Plant.  He said potato farming on sandy soil was a balance of irrigation and disease pressure — “every time you water you create a disease event, it’s a ­vicious cycle” — with small amounts of fungicide ­applied following irrigation.

 

Hawkes Farm Store is a family run business that sells produce grown on site, as well as products from local growers. The aim of the store is to bring together great produce from around the Peninsula.

 

 

 

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About Hawkes Vegetables
Mornington Peninsula farmer Richard Hawkes has eyes on the future
SARAH HUDSON, The Weekly Times
October 17, 2017 11:00pm

Aa STEPHEN Leisk, “Oxenthorpe”, northwest of Molong, is in the middle of an eight year composting program that is literally transforming his land from quite marginal country, to a viable farm.

Compost, transforming marginal country, into a viable farm

“Oxenthorpe”, northwest of Molong, had 10 owners in 100 years because, “no-one could make it work”.  But thanks to compost owner Stephen Leisk, is in the middle of an eight year composting program that is literally transforming his land from quite marginal country, to a viable farm.  Stephen laughs as he describes the 162-hectare holding about 650 metres above sea level on east-facing slopes comprised of granite sandy loam hot with aluminium as “the plot no-one wanted”.

He bought “Oxenthorpe” 14 years ago and initially couldn’t make it work either.  “We tried cattle and it was a disaster, we were running 27 cows, we sacked them and bought ewes. “With sheep it wasn’t much better, but we managed 12 days’ grazing a year per hectare and were running 100 sheep.” Over 10 years he watched in pain as thousands of dollars of synthetic fertiliser dissipated into what is essentially sand atop an inhospitable subsoil.

Success with a new Approach

Using a spreader, 16ha of Mr Leisk’s property where treated with a “black lime compost” blend, one part lime to four parts compost.  “I don’t like seeing plumes of material I’ve paid for blowing away in the wind,” Blending the compost with lime eliminates the usual plumes that follow a spreader, said Mr Leisk.  “Mixing the lime and compost, the compost seems to act like a magnet, not only does it stop the lime blowing around, but it stabilises it and extends its life,”.  “The compost also holds moisture and adds carbon to the soil, and carbon is the driver of everything.”

READ MORE  www.theland.com.au

San Francisco's Zero Waste program

Composting Mountains of Food Waste

Major US city’s like New York and San Francisco amps up food recycling, with San Francisco showing the way.

Composting first a trend, is now becoming the lawThe New York City Mayor announced a plan to increase composting of food scraps generated by the city’s eight million inhabitants. In a few years, separation of food waste from general refuse could be required of residents, the mayor said.

 

This follows as a number of other cities around the united states already require food scrap recycling, including San Francisco San Francisco’s ” Zero Waste program” and Seattle, but the idea has been slower to catch on in New York, where critics worried that the urban density may make it more difficult—and possibly smellier. But closing the loop between composting leading to healthy soils which grows healthy local food was key in the success of this program.

 

READ MORE nationalgeographic.com

READ MORE  www.alternet.org/

READ MORE Restaurant Trend: Composting Not Only Cool, Legally Required

 

Victorian Panmure dairy farmer Peter Moir

Victorian dairy farmers talk compost AUDIO

A growing number of dairy farmers in south west Victoria, including Panmure dairy farmer Peter Moir says he composts everything from manure to old hay. He has even composted the body of a dead cow. “It’s actually very good as far as odours go, but the two Labradors I’ve got there certainly enjoy something like that happening close to the house.” It took six months for the cow’s body to break down in the compost heap. “I like the idea too about the possibility of the improvement in our soil and farm health.”

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LISTEN abc.net.au/news/rural