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Does anyone run a composting business? Or familiar with commercial composting numbers?

 
pollinator
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I've been racking my brain this summer trying to come up with viable side hustles that are tied in with regenerative agriculture and the idea of a small scale commercial composting business in one that has stood out to me. I have access to a tremendous volume of free inputs (mixed/unsprayed wood chips, various poos, sea weed, organic farm wastes, organic coffee grounds, and others I probably can't think of at the moment) and I have a place where the piles can exist. I expect to buy some inputs (mostly some rock dusts and possibly biodynamic preps) but the biggest question mark in my mind is how large an operation I would have to run to generate a noticeable cash flow, and how does that compare to the amount of compost a one person operation can realistically produce in a year? Am I crazy to think that I could produce 30 cubic yards of compost a year? 50?
Appreciate anyones experiences and suggestions.
 
gardener
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Space, raw ingrediants, machinery, and water would be thei limiting factors. If all those are adequate there is no limit.

My piles are ruffly 10ft x 10ft x 4ft high. They are concrete lego blocks so i have a backstop to turn it with a skidsteer. Every thing goes in ftom horse manure, bedding,  deer guts, kitchen scraps. I rotate between the 2 piles. One is being used while another is finishing.
 
steward
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Check out this video.  I'm thinking windrows with a turner like this could be the ticket.  
 
pollinator
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This is an awesome idea Stephen!!

Here are some questions that may help you in your cost-benefit analysis:

What's the going price for organic compost in your area?
What's your customer base, how many estimated customers?
Do they want it bagged or by the truckload?
How often will they re-supply?
How many acres of organic farmland/orchard in your town? or kitchen gardens?
Any composting competition in your area?  

Once you confirm a viable market for your product, you're set, and all other costs can be factored in with confidence.
 
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This is worth a listen even if the business model is a bit different.

https://realeyeshomestead.com/permaculture-realized-podcast-episode-32-bicycle-powered-community-composting-with-ried-meyer/

I like the 'compost subscription' idea.  A Community Supported Composting service.
 
gardener
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Dr. Ingham has been involved with several commercial compost company startups.
Windrows is the only way to be able to produce enough compost with living microbiomes and for such an operation to be considered viable financially.
Pricing tends to be by either the cubic yard or per 50 lbs. 50 lbs. normally goes for around 2.50 US dollars. Cu. Yd. tends to go for around 25.00 US dollars (figures are from my area which is not high population).

The compost turning machine needs to also be able to spray the windrow as it turns the compost and these are usually tow behind or cable driven machines but some are self powered.
Costs for such a machine ranges from 25K to 100K.

The smallest compost company I know of incorporates 50 acres of windrows, the windrows are 8 feet wide x 6 feet tall x 200 yards long. This company sells by the ton ($100.00) or by the cu. yd. ($35.00). (figures are from an area with 350,000 population)
Currently they are in the black, but they took three years to start making a profit. The good news is that once you get to the profitable stage it rarely goes backwards.
In comparison, the City of Little Rock has a compost business that uses all the yard wastes it picks up and they sell their (almost compost in my opinion) product for 2.50 per 50 lbs. they also sell it by the cu. yard for 25.00.
While this particular product is usable as is at pickup, there are quite a few larger sticks, twigs and some rocks in the product.
The city uses front end loaders to turn the compost and fire hoses to add water, not a particularly efficient set up.

Redhawk
 
Mike Jay
steward
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My county does composting at the dump but it's a crappy product.  Bits of plastic and who-knows-what for chemicals.  Any privately made compost would be better.  So I'm thinking the local competition (including municipal) would be worth checking out before diving into the business.
 
pollinator
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With a generous 33% profit margin, you will need to sell $100,000 to see $33,000 in your hand.
With a $30/yd3 price, you will also need to produce about 3,600 yd3 per year.
80% of sales is done in the spring, so you will need to "store" 9 months of compost (2,800 yd3).
Composting reduces feedstock volume by 50%. So 2 X 3,600yd3/yr or 600yd3 of feedstock per month.

You could also try making biochar and then mixing that in with your compost and selling it for a 2x price premium.
Or just sell woodchip biochar only. But those are year 5 plans after you make some money in invest in equipment.

It is really awesome that you have the raw material and land.
Do you have a market for that volume of compost?
How much will it cost you to reach that market (shipping & advertising)
How much will it cost you to get the feedstock to you.
Is it possible for you to charge to have the feedstock dumped at your location?

What tools/equipment do you have to help you
1) receive the compost
2) turn the compost,
3) and to load/ship/package the compost.

If all I had was a shovel + wheelbarrow + hose + 40hr/week (+10hr/wk doing paperwork). I wonder how much feedstock/compost I could handle?.

Don't be afraid to start small. And just sell by word of mouth. Or if you have a friend that runs community garden or does landscaping or a golf course. just make as much as you can and send it off to that buyer.
 
pollinator
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Check out craigslist, there are a few places around here that sell for $20/yd, you pick up. At that price Dr Redhawk's math makes sense. I get maybe 30% compost from my chips, and that is enough from 100 yards of chips to generously feed my gardens of a little over half an acre. I steal chips from it on occasion, maybe I am getting 20 yards of compost. I mix in about 10 yards of granite dust per year as well, and deer carcasses. There are still some bones in there when I spread it (oops!) This is not commercial compost by any means.

That being said I could get the same amount of compost without doing the work for $400. Just not my style. Probably not worth a minimum wage for the work it takes honestly. Scale would be essential.
 
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Rodale may have the research/info you need:  https://rodaleinstitute.org/about/facilities-and-campuses/compost-yard/
 
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Instead of composting you could start a vermicomposting business. That would bring you much more revenue. I recently bought Rhonda Sherman's new book "The Worm Farmer's Handbook : Techniques and Systems for Successful Large-Scale Vermicomposting" from an UK bookseller site (I am in the Netherlands).

bookdepository.com wrote:Turning waste into wealth sounds too good to be true, but many worm farmers are finding that vermicomposting is a reliable way to do just that. Vermicast--a biologically active, nutrient-rich mix of earthworm castings and decomposed organic matter--sells for $400 or more per cubic yard. Compare that to regular compost, sold at about $30 a cubic yard, and you'll see why vermicomposting has taken root in most countries and on every continent but Antarctica.



Besides how to work with worms the book has a lot of info about the business side, regulations etc.
 
pollinator
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I used to work in planning of communal compost plants (not huge though). The main issue is the stench. If you have any neighbours nearby you will run into trouble. So they had to house all these operations which costs a lot of money and creates a huge pile of problems itself. Otherwise it's a good idea.
 
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This sounds like a joke but it's not.

I've thought of going commercial with the manure generated by the animals on our farm. Think "Froguano" and "Tadpoo". We also have access to large quantities of "Fishit".

With land next to a municipal sewage treatment plant, neighbors and odor are not an issue.

These manures, when composted become a rich, dark, earthy material that grows wonderful vegetables. Since it comes from poikilothermic animals, the chance for zoonosis is nil.

Our free heat source speeds up the composting process.

I registered entrepmanure.com many years ago.

Alas; I'm an old cripple, and already as busy as I want to be.

 
pollinator
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There’s more money in the services related to composting, than the compost itself. Compost at $25/yd. x 40 yds. = just $1000.00 whereas $50/week Composting Service x 52 weeks = $2600.00.
Some models:
Home or office pickup service, where customers get regular pickups and a yearly share of the compost created.
Restaurant pickup service, where they save $$ on garbage haulers and pay you instead. Also pairs well if you are a grower and can sell produce and deliver to the restaurant and haul back compostable waste on the same trip!
Brewery spent grain hauling, to a dairy or piggery, you could charge one for removal and other for delivery!
Landscaping waste dump site, if you can trust the landscaper... they pay tipping fees of $60 and up around here per load. Fall leaves tend to be less problematic than grass clippings for contamination with herbicide/pesticide. Get paid, for materials delivered to you.
The same for wood chips from tree services, though these are more commodified as mulch feedstocks.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Most definitively true! If you like driving a truck or can pay a wage.
 
Kenneth Elwell
pollinator
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wayne fajkus wrote:Space, raw ingrediants, machinery, and water would be thei limiting factors. If all those are adequate there is no limit.



I second this.
I have composted both with and without machinery, and 50-100 cubic yards by hand will wear you out or break you. If you don't have a machine, get one as soon as you feel you are committed to the project, you will thank yourself.

Many states have requirements regarding compost sites, find yours and read it through. Read some others too, something that is a requirement somewhere else, may be a good practice/solution for you even if not required.

One requirement being: having an adequate stockpile of brown materials, often a three-months supply (I'm guessing to last a winter, or any other delays in supply).
The green materials will keep on coming in (especially if you are supporting a regular pickup service) and you need to be able to mix them with the brown materials ASAP (sometimes stipulated in regulations as daily) to lessen any putrid odors and vermin/wildlife problems.
You are also capturing nutrients/liquid materials by absorbing them and preventing runoff.
Another odor control is capping active piles with finished compost as a "filter", adjusting C:N ratio towards more C, and aeration.
 
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