Are your lagoons filling faster than you can possibly pump? Is your farm plan telling you that you don't have enough land to spread manure due to too much nitrogen? You may want to consider composting your dairy manure. One way to alleviate excess nitrogen on your land is to compost the manure, and sell it.

WSU Cooperative Extension is currently looking for a few good dairies that are willing to take proactive steps in producing and selling compost made from their dairy manure. Two local dairies are already selling compost to local homeowners and agencies while making money and managing their nutrients.

Quality compost is an exceptional product and has proven itself. Many studies show the benefits of compost which include:

  • Improves soil tilth.
  • Adds essential nutrients and soil microorganisms, which makes for healthier plants.
  • May reduce incidence of plant diseases & other harmful organisms.
  • Improves soil structure, porosity and density, creating a better plant root environment, thus plants thrive.
  • Increases permeability of heavy soils so plants establish faster.
  • Improves water holding capacity of sandy soils, reducing water loss & leaching.
  • Improves and stabilizes soil pH.

For the dairy producer, you too will experience benefits by composting:

  • Compost is a profitable product to sell.
  • Composting reduces the volume of manure by up to 65% (sometimes more!).
  • Compost weighs less than equal volumes of manure, so transport costs are less.
  • Composting reduces odors.
  • Excess nutrients are moved off the farm.
  • Nutrient leaching is greatly reduced.
  • Compost practices can be an integral part of a farm's nutrient management plan.
  • Compost is soil amendment for the farm itself

Additionally, WSU Cooperative Extension will be conducting research on compost and other products of compost (such as compost tea). Recently, researchers at Whatcom County Cooperative Extension showed how compost tea can suppress certain plant diseases. This spring, more studies will look at compost.

Is composting for every dairy producer? No, it's not, but it can relieve some of the pressures of managing nitrogen and provide a way to export excess nutrients. If you do choose to compost manure, you don't have to compost it all. Manure in it's raw from is an excellent source of nutrients for your crops, but you can develop an individualized integrated manure management program for your dairy that will incorporate different aspects of the nutrient flow on your dairy. Also, keep in mind that you do not have to own a separator to make compost. Unseparated dairy manure, which is scraped from stalls, can make excellent compost.

What if you don't know how or what is involved in composting? WSU Cooperative Extension is more than willing to give you the knowledge necessary to compost. All you need is the desire to learn and the commitment of some of your time.

A very common question is, "What do I do with the compost after it's made?" An essential component of providing compost to the consumer is marketing your product if you plan to successfully sell it. Whatcom County Cooperative Extension can assist you in developing a marketing plan that is tailored to your operation. It's up to you to make the initial contacts and build relationships with potential clients and customers, but the demand for compost is there. You have what it takes to produce a quality product made fresh from your dairy!

WSU has published "The Whatcom County Manure Compost Marketing Guide" to help you market and sell your unique compost in the county, but we are also continuing to explore other markets for compost. Whatcom County road services are seeing the potential for compost to help reduce surface water run off on reclaimed lands. Also, City of Bellingham Park's Department has been using compost and observing great results!

Composting is one option that doesn't promise to solve all manure management problems that a person may have, but the practice can work well with an integrated manure management plan for your dairy. WSU Cooperative Extension is here to answer your questions about composting and marketing it. Don't let your valuable nutrients leach away; turn your excess manure into a profitable cash crop by composting! Give us a call at (360) 778-5800.



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