Compost application on rangeland in the semi-arid southwest for increased soil C storage and forage production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $19,981.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G355-20-W7900
Grant Recipient: Polk’s Folly Farm
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Zachary Withers
Polk’s Folly Farm


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial)
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: range improvement
  • Soil Management: composting, soil analysis

    Proposal summary:

    In the semi-arid Southwest, overgrazing and mismanagement of rangeland, combined with climate change, are necessitating rangeland restoration  to ensure economically viable agricultural operations. Compost application to croplands and rangelands in wetter environments has proven successful to increase forage production and soil carbon storage, essential for soil water-holding capacity. Here we propose leveraging efforts current compost production at Polk’s Folly Farm to assess the efficacy of compost application to rangeland for increased forage production and soil carbon storage at two semi-arid sites in New Mexico (annual precipitation ~ 460 mm). Polk’s Folly Farm and Esquibel Brothers and Son Ranch will collaborate with the Quivira Coalition and New Mexico Tech to assess this method at two sites with native plant communities using two application rates. In order to provide a comprehensive picture of project efforts to producers, Polk’s Folly Farm will create an economic case study of on-farm compost production. Additionally, the team will hold a field-day on experimental design and compost application methods. To encourage producer participation in the next round of WSARE Farmer/Rancher Research and Education grants, Polk’s Folly Farm and Esquibel Brothers and Sons Ranch will discuss their experience with grant application and execution process on Quivira Coalition’s podcast. Results will be presented at the annual REGENERATE conference, where the largest attendee group is producers. Assessing the efficacy of this nationally recognized method for increasing soil carbon storage and forage production in semi-arid sites will inform producers, agencies, and technical service providers’ management decisions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Determine best methods and economic feasibility of compost production on Polk’s Folly Farm

    • Produce compost with a C:N >11 appropriate for rangeland application [4,6]
      • Polk’s Folly Farm, Linden Schneider (technical advisor), Benjamin Duval (researcher)
    • Open-source, free economic case study of compost production
      •  Polk’s Folly Farm, Linden Schneider, Benjamin Duval

    Objective 2: Determine appropriate compost application rate 

    • Establish 2 application rates (2" and 4") and a control plot in experimental plots
      • Polk’s Folly Farm, Esquibel Ranch, and Linden Schneider

    Objective 3: Determine compost application effect on soils and plant communities

    • Soil sampling and analyses at pre-treatment and years 2 and 3. Plant community monitoring at pre-treatment and years 2 and 3. 
      • Lead: Linden Schneider, all team members participate
    • Analyze and interpret data for presentation at 2021 and 2022 REGENERATE Conference
      • Linden Schneider and Benjamin Duval

    Objective 4: Producer focused engagement in experimental setup and the WSARE grant application process

    • Experimental design and compost application field-day
      • Linden Schneider, Polk’s Folly Farm, and Esquibel Ranch
    • Podcast about WSARE Farmer/Rancher Research and Education Grant process for producers
      • Polk’s Folly Farm and Esquibel Ranch 
    • Presentation of results at 2021 and 2022 REGENERATE Conferences
      • Linden Schneider, Polk’s Folly Farm, and Esquibel Ranch
    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.