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Farm scale, or light commercial scale composting?  RSS feed

 
russell smith
Posts: 11
Location: South central/west Kansas, USA
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Anybody on here that has experience with composting on a large scale? Not you average household scale, but big enough to make compost for ACRES, up to 80 acres of farm, with 40 acres tillable.This would be a small scale commercial operation for most.
I live in a semi-arid climate, with fields that are partly a coarse sand that even wheat will not sprout in, I am looking at doing a large scale compost using a mixture of wood chips for carbon, grass clippings for nitrogen, and assorted manure from cows, horses, goats& rabbits.  This ground needs intensive care even if all I do is grow hay.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The traditional way that farmers handle this sort of thing is with a manure spreader. The bedding and manure are scattered across the fields and decompose where they fall.

My cover crops get incorporated into the soil exactly where they grew. I don't move them to a central location for processing, and then back into the field...

 
russell smith
Posts: 11
Location: South central/west Kansas, USA
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In my case there is little to no organic material in the soil, so I have to bring some in.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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You can do it if you can get the material by the semi load and have a decent loader to turn the piles, but it will be a full time job to turn the piles for a while.

Manure spreader to put the organic matter out as-is, and then make compost tea to spray everywhere as an inoculant may be more cost/time efficient.  You will still be shocked at the semi loads needed to cover 40 acres with meaningful amounts organic matter.

Cover crops are definitely more cost effective. 
 
Tracy West
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You should be able to get poultry litter,horse manure and maybe feedlot cleanings. I've found that horse manure,since it is mixed with plenty of bedding,is great even without anything else mixed in. I've spread it straight on the fields in winter using my manure spreader and have also piled it up and then spread after it sat for 3-6 months. I've never done a formal compost pile with turning but my piles of horse manure have always made fine compost and I was able to turn 40 acres of clay with sparse weeds to,lush Bermuda using this method and only the seeds from the manure and hay used to seed the pasture.
I currently don't have a large place,just a small garden and 1.5 acres for the horses. I do harrow their pasture and that,along with scraps from the round bales,adds a great amount of organic matter to the pasture. I pile the stall cleanings up and use it as my compost,adding leaf mold and worm castings. Btw,the horse manure straight is like worm crack.
The neighbor has a huge (maybe 2,000 acres?) of crop land and he piles a mountain of turkey litter up all winter,delivered by semi. In the spring they spread it on the fields on top of the winter oats. The oats grow a month or two longer and and then get turned under so they can plant. They also rotate crops,using either soy or peanuts,then alternating with cotton or corn.
For something large scale I think cover crops are key,then hauling in huge amounts of manure,letting it sit in a pile a few months and spreading it.
We have sandy soil here so the farmers all use this method. It also works on clay,which I've experienced in OK,AZ,CO and WY.
 
Travis Johnson
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Mr Lofthouse is indeed correct in that it is very difficult to scale up on composting, it is far more efficient to load your manure once into a manure spreader and spread it upon the land then try and make compost. Not only would you have to handle the compost multiple times, you would lose an incredible amount of nitrogen as you did so.

We used to have a large dairy farm and grew 1600 acres of corn and 1600 acres of grass, putting liquid manure on the grass ground and solid manure on the corn ground, crop rotating every 7 years and today the soil tests show we are actually at the upper end of the limit on organic matter...and yes you can have too much! A lot of that stems from the way seeds go through ruminants stomachs. It is not processed, so in essence our fields were seeded every year. You could see the bands of clover where the tanker trucks sprayed the manure onto the fields because there was a big ribbon of clover...and thus a nice nitrogen fixing plant...aiding in the soil health of the field.

On my own farm, which is quite a bit larger then 80 acres, I use solid sheep manure and the only thing my soil needs is a little bit of lime because the soil tends to be acidic here. With sheep manure there is more organic matter because sheep are finicky eaters and thus won't eat the stems, yet their manure is the highest in nitrogen.

All this is to say, don't over-think your situation. It is a very permiculture way because like Gabe Brown says, "Don't write a check where you do not have to", and in this case you would be burning more diesel making compost that is less effective then just applying manure. You never want to do more to get less in return, and a good manure spreader for teh size of farm you have is only around $10,000; a solid investment for sure.




 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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russell smith wrote:Anybody on here that has experience with composting on a large scale? Not you average household scale, but big enough to make compost for ACRES, up to 80 acres of farm, with 40 acres tillable.This would be a small scale commercial operation for most.
I live in a semi-arid climate, with fields that are partly a coarse sand that even wheat will not sprout in, I am looking at doing a large scale compost using a mixture of wood chips for carbon, grass clippings for nitrogen, and assorted manure from cows, horses, goats& rabbits.  This ground needs intensive care even if all I do is grow hay.


The usual method is to create windrows with the wood chips, then layer up from there. Water, wait two days and turn each of the windrows.
Usually farms dedicate at least one acre to compost making so they have enough room to create enough compost to treat their fields.
Most farms either own their own compost turning machine or they hire that work done so it doesn't take all day.
A compost turner is a type of enclosed conveyor belt affair, it takes the bottom and rolls it around to the top, using wood chips is perfect since they are a good indicator of how well the wind row was turned. windrow compost turner
Once you have turned the rows, you wait two to three days then turn them again, this process goes on for about 15 days. You need to monitor the rows for internal temperature (140 -165 degrees is considered optimal)
At the end of the 15 day cycle, if the temps have remained in the sweet spot, your compost is ready to go into the spreader. Normal rate is 2.5 tons per acre.
By the way, your listed mix of components is very much spot on.

Redhawk
 
russell smith
Posts: 11
Location: South central/west Kansas, USA
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R Scott wrote:You can do it if you can get the material by the semi load and have a decent loader to turn the piles, but it will be a full time job to turn the piles for a while.

Manure spreader to put the organic matter out as-is, and then make compost tea to spray everywhere as an inoculant may be more cost/time efficient.  You will still be shocked at the semi loads needed to cover 40 acres with meaningful amounts organic matter.

Cover crops are definitely more cost effective. 

I am looking at hauling in to get started as I need to repair the of manure spreader I have to apply.
Where the soil is near sterile should a guy disc or plow to mix the compost into the soil to restart the microbes?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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The thing about tilling is that below the area tilled you will see some compaction occur (weight of the tilling device, tractor and so on).
But, if you are dealing with DIRT to start with, then disruption is called for. (dirt is minerals with the absence of life forms)
I would go ahead and till in some but not all of the compost you plan to spread, then water in with either some air enriched compost tea or some mushroom slurry (or both if you have both).
The air introduced by the tilling is good, the mushroom and or compost tea will introduce ready to eat nutrients and microorganisms, always a good thing.

You can do those then make a pass with a N fixer cover crop such as clovers, Lucerne (alfalfa).
If you want deeper loosening, daikon radish or rape are good items to sew, they both will put down deep roots that will rot in place once the tops are chopped off and left to rot on the surface.

Redhawk
 
Travis Johnson
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It all depends on how much you need to apply and what you are doing with the land above. For instance, if you have grass ground for hay, or grass ground for pasture, the land can only tolerate so much manure or it will merely run off in the next rain event. It also might smother the grass if applied to heavy.

If the land is going to be for veggies or row crops, then you can incorporate (till) a lot more manure into the soil.

This is the reason we crop rotate on my farm. Depending on what a particular field needs, we might bring it up to what it needs by putting it in row crops for a few years, or just tilling it up, pounding the manure and lime to it, regrading it and putting it back into grass ground again. The latter is our last preference as it is an expensive way to get where we need to be.

The one thing you have not mentioned, nor anyone else, is what the compaction level is. That is another reason to till if you want to get it up to high production quickly. If you do not mind waiting a few years, you could plant the right cover crops and get a similar effect.

Tillage should always be the last answer, but if your soil is lifeless now, then tilling it with copious amounts of manure would indeed bring the fertility up quicker, break up compaction and smooth the surface.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I agree Travis, if you already have a crop (grass is a crop) then you should have some biology going on already so a dusting of compost is far better in that situation.

I did a test hole for a farm about 20 years ago, the reason for it was to check the impact that farmer's equipment had on the deeper soil as he ran his disk equipment over it.
His disk rig could till about 18 inches but what was interesting was that as he fluffed up that top 18 inches he added 5 inches of compaction just below that fresh tilled space.
That means he was limiting root systems (for the most part) to 18 inches depth, when those roots could have gone down something like 38 inches in his growing season.

Redhawk
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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If you have a plow pan compaction layer, I would sub soil the field after the manure was spread.  Then compost tea so it can run down the rip lines.  Of course, run the subsoiler on contour or keyline if you have any slope at all.
 
Travis Johnson
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R Scott, I was just about to reply to the same thing. yes we have a sub-soiler and use it a lot. About the only thing bad about it is, man that thing brings up some rocks!

I do not use straight lime but something called Algefiber, which is a product that comes out of a plant here that makes createne from seaweed. It is nice stuff, but it takes 10 tons to equate to 1 ton of straight lime. That means  to get any measurable amount in the soil, I have to put it down thick, and then till it in.There is no light dusting with that stuff, but then I recognize that it really is only available to Mainer's. Its great stuff, but it takes a lot of it!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I pretty much stopped thinking about applying compost to my fields after I did the math, and determined that my county and the next county over do not manufacture enough mulch to cover my very small farm.

russell smith wrote:I live in a semi-arid climate, with fields that are partly a coarse sand that even wheat will not sprout in,


I'd be really curious to see a photo of the land.  I wonder if you have tried planting wheat in the fall?

Around here, even in the middle of the desert, something is growing everywhere outside of the salt-flats, at least in some seasons of the year. For example, I see vegetation and organic matter in this photo.



Just gotta catch them during a rainy season.



 
Tracy West
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OP-have you had a soil test? You may want to get an extension agent out to help you formulate an action plan. Most parts of KS are very productive,they have just been overused and abused.
 
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