Using Actively Aerated Compost Tea in Organic Vegetable and Fruit Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $17,262.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Old Plank Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Stephanie J. Bartel
Old Plank Farm LLC


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Vegetables: cabbages, cucurbits, peppers, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, foliar feeding, nutrient management, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: composting, soil microbiology

    Proposal summary:

    Potentially harmful organic fertilizer and pesticide products are on the rise. Water-soluble fertilizers, such as OMRI-approved Chilean Nitrate, can end up leached into water systems just as easily as synthetic fertilizers. Organic pesticides often harm beneficial pollinators, according to Xerces Society studies. Dependence on these products undermine a farm’s ecological sustainability.

    One alternative may be Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT). AACT is a biological soil inoculant produced by extracting microbes from compost containing a healthy soil foodweb. It can double yields, deter pests and eliminate diseases...or it can destroy entire crops; the line between these outcomes depends on the skills of the AACT producer. The problem is making effective AACT requires more skills than most farmers possess. 

    I propose to make AACT with the help of soil biology consultants. My objective is to show that properly-made AACT can be a cost-competitive, ecologically-sound alternative to organic fertilizers and pesticides. This project will compare net profits of vegetables and fruits grown using AACT and those grown using organic fertilizers and pesticides. My second objective is to complete training in soil biology, biological compost production, and AACT production, and to share my skills with farmers in the Midwest region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Make effective AACT with the help of lab testing and working with certified consultants and compost products that follow Dr. Ingham's healthy soil food web parameters.
    2. Compare net profits of crops grown using AACT and crops grown using organic fertilizers and pesticides. 
    3. Complete Soil Food Web Courses; use skills to make AACT without off-farm testing, consulting or compost resources.
    4. Share results and methods with local farmers. My long-term objective is to complete a Soil Food Web consultant training program. Further investigation could look at other positive effects of AACT (ie reduced irrigation needs, food quality).
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.