Marketing on-farm compost for sustainability and economic viability
Farmers often compost for on-farm use, however selling the product off-farm presents challenges that comparatively few have successfully navigated. Demand for compost products is on the rise, presenting a viable value-added product for farmers. Resources about how to compost abound, however few resources exist to help farmers effectively market the product.
The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) and project Team Members are providing the tools to help farmers: 1) explore composting as a value-added product to support their current business operation; 2) understand the importance of quality control and compost recipe develop; 3) learn how to acquire the necessary permits to operate and market compost in their state; 4) explore potential feedstocks and pricing structures; 5) develop marketing and sales strategies to effectively meet local and regional demand; and 6) develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
NERC and Project Team members planned and implemented seven compost marketing workshops in four states (two workshops in 2010; four workshops in 2011; one workshop in 2012). A total of 275 farmers, agricultural professionals, and others from around the Northeast participated in the workshops. Beneficiary participants included 140 farm compost operators and 36 agricultural professionals, as well as municipal and private sector compost operators. NERC staff distributed more than 2,500 emails and mailings of workshop announcements directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities, requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcements. Team members posted announcements on their Websites and listserves. Numerous postings were made on agricultural-related Websites; several articles about the project and project resources were also developed and distributed.
The CD Resource Toolkit, containing project specific compost marketing materials, along with hundreds of other compost and compost marketing documents, was distributed to all workshop participants, agricultural specialists, and SARE representatives (105 CDs in 2010; 225 CDs in 2011; 65 CDs in 2012). Project resources and workshop presentations have been posted on NERC’s Compost Marketing webpage, created for the project. In 2012, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the webpage 1,970 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 3,699 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,734 times.
Twenty-four on-farm consultations (eight in 2010; nine in 2011; seven in 2012) have been made to provide technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, niche marketing opportunities, and the development of compost marketing plans to assist in increasing farm compost sales. Fourteen compost marketing plans have been completed.
Milestone 1: Form a Project Team of 19 individuals from four different states to assist in development of the Toolkit, outreach, workshops/field days, development and implementation, delivery of technical assistance, and project verification.
• Project Team involvement was initiated in May 2009 and continued through 2012 with development and dissemination of the Toolkit; workshop formation, outreach, and implementation; and delivery of technical assistance.
Milestone 2: 155 CD copies of Resource Toolkit distributed (80 to ws/fd’s participants, 40 to Agricultural Specialists, 35 SARE representatives), and posted on the NERC website, Compost Marketing webpage.
• A total of 385 Resource Toolkits have been distributed to workshop participants, agricultural specialists (for distribution to their constituents), and SARE representatives. In 2012, 65 Toolkits were distributed.
• Project specific resources and workshop presentations have been posted on the NERC Compost Marketing webpage (www.nerc.org/compost_marketing/).
• In 2012, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the Compost Marketing webpage 1,970 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 3,699 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,734 times. In addition to the project resources, the posted workshop presentations also received thousands of hits.
Milestone 3: At least 500 on-farm composters will be contacted for participation in workshop/field days.
• More than 3,000 emails were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of workshop announcements, including, more than 500 emails in 2012
• Agricultural Specialist Team Members from each state in which workshops were held posted the workshop announcement and sent it out on their respective listserves or contact lists.
Milestone 4: 80 beneficiary farmers will gain knowledge and skills in compost marketing by participating in workshops/field days and receiving the Toolkit. Beneficiaries will complete a questionnaire and be offered individual assistance to develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
• 275 participant beneficiaries from around the Northeast participated in six compost marketing workshops (two workshops in 2010; four workshops in 2011; and, one workshop in 2012).
• 140 beneficiary farmers and 36 agricultural professionals participated in the workshops.
• All workshop participants were provided with a CD Resource Toolkit. Each participant is asked to complete a questionnaire. All farm-based beneficiaries were presented with the opportunity for technical assistance. A total of 101 completed questionnaires were received, including 13 in 2012.
Milestone 5: 25 beneficiaries will ask for and be provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan, including two on-farm consultations each. (Jan. 2010 – March 2012)
• Forty-one beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance, including three in 2012; all were contacted by NERC staff.
• Nineteen beneficiaries were provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan (eight in 2010; nine in 2011; two in 2012), including an on-farm consultation and technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, and niche marketing opportunities to assist in increasing farm compost sales.
Milestone 6: Follow-up verification with (25) technical assistance beneficiaries and 10 case studies documenting successfully implemented compost marketing plans. The case studies will be incorporated into an updated Toolkit. Revised toolkit will be mailed to SARE representatives and others upon request. (March 2012 – April 2013)
• Fourteen market plans have been completed.
• Follow-up to technical assistance to beneficiaries is ongoing; including the completion of five, follow-up (second) on-site technical assistance visits.
Performance Target: Of 80 farmers participating in the field day/workshops, 25 will develop compost marketing plans, 15 of which will implement the plans and sell value-added compost products within two years of implementing the marketing plan as measured by increased sales and tipping fees of roughly $36,000 to $56,000 annually for each participating beneficiary. Project Duration: 4 years.
Substantially more farmer and other beneficiaries have participated in the workshops and received the CD Resource Toolkit than anticipated in the original project proposal. Responses to the workshop questionnaire and additional comments received from beneficiaries have been overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of the knowledge and resources received to assist them in creating a viable compost product and marketing success.
In May 2009, communication commenced with Team Members and continued through 2012. Five Agricultural Specialists and one Peer Expert have been presenters at the workshops held to date. Peer Experts Ray and Erich McEnroe of McEnroe Organics hosted the first New York workshop (2010); two Beneficiary Team Members attended the workshop. Agricultural Specialists from Cornell Waste Management Institute (Jean Bonhotal and staff) were instrumental in organizing the second New York workshop, held at Cornell in January 2011; two Beneficiary Team Members attended the workshop. Agricultural Specialist and Peer Expert Team Members from New York and Massachusetts have been particularly invaluable to the success of the project.
In 2012, conference calls, and telephone or email conversations with Project Team members, primarily Agricultural Specialist members from Massachusetts, continued for development and implementation of the final workshop. Sumner Martinson, Organics Director, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, has been the primary active Team member for the State. He was instrumental in helping to determine the logistics, date, agenda, and speakers for the three Compost Marketing events held in Massachusetts (2010, 2011, and 2012). Ongoing telephone and email dialogues with Mr. Martinson continued through 2012 for the planning of the third workshop for Massachusetts, held in March in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
The 2012 workshop was held in conjunction with a Compost Operations and Marketing Training for Massachusetts. The all-day training was held on March 26 at the Wrentham Developmental Center in Wrentham. Forty-three agricultural, commercial, and municipal compost operators, including twelve farmers and seven agricultural professionals. Sponsors of the training were the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and NERC.
In addition to the outreach conducted by Project Leader to announce the Training, Gerard Kennedy, Director of Agricultural Technical Assistance for MDAR and Project Team member, posted the announcement for the workshop on the MA Department of Agricultural Resources weekly marketing report. Announcements were also sent out by Mr. Martinson. Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Martinson, along with the Project Leader presented at the Training.
Resource Materials and Toolkit
Extensive research was conducted on composting and marketing in order to compile the three documents on compost marketing developed by NERC staff. These documents, along with one developed by a Team Peer Expert were finalized for inclusion in the CD Resource Toolkit in 2010. A total of 395 CD Resource Toolkits were distributed to workshop beneficiaries, agricultural specialists (for distribution to additional farm beneficiaries), and SARE Representatives, including 65 CDs in 2012. Agricultural specialists have also reported using the Toolkit to make additional copies for their constituents.
The resources and workshop presentations are posted on NERC’s Compost Marketing webpage (www.nerc.org/compost_marketing/). These free resources have proven to be very popular. In 2012, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the webpage 1,970 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 3,699 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,734 times. In addition to the project resources, the posted workshop presentations also received thousands of hits.
A link to the Compost Marketing webpage and resources, along with a description of the project, was posted on the SARE Learning Center and the “Dig Deeper” section of the NESARE website in February 2012.
January 2012 – 10 CDs distributed to SARE Representatives attending the second-tier panel meeting for grant review.
March 2012 – 55 CDs distributed to Massachusetts Workshop participants and Agricultural Specialists attending the workshop.
Document downloads from NERC Compost Marketing Website in 2012:
“Making Your Compost Product Work for You”— 1,970 downloads
“Compost Marketing Plan Template”— 3,699 downloads
“Compost Marketing Resource List”— 1,734 downloads.
Workshop Outreach/Farmer Contact
In January, February, and March 2012, some 500 emails of the Compost Operator Training flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, MA Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for the Compost Operations and Marketing Training for Massachusetts held in March 2012. A bulletin was also posted on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm/Market Report by a project Peer Expert. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Recycling Association’s Annual Organics Summit, the workshop was heavily promoted by both MASSDEP and MassRecycle on their Websites, emails, press releases, and additional outreach. (See attachment for the Compost Operator Training flier.)
2012 NERC Email Bulletins were published (distribution 700 individuals around the country):
May 2012—“Compost Operations and Marketing Training”
December 2012—“Farm Compost Visits Provide Marketing Insights”
Additional articles and announcements
• March 10, 2012, Lancaster Farming, Northern Edition, “Composting Workshop March 26 in Mass.”
• March 1, 2012—Massachusetts Farm and Market Report, Extras – Workshop announcement
• December 2012—NERC Facebook page postings and Technical Assistance Farm Visit photos added
• Numerous blogs, Facebook postings, county extension and government pages, and calendar listings for all workshops were posted on the SARE Website, NOFA, and other agricultural Websites.
One Workshop/Field Day Held
NERC and Team Members have planned and implemented seven compost marketing workshops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York, with 275 participants from around the Northeast. Beneficiary participants included 140 farm compost operators and 36 agricultural professionals, as well as municipal and private sector compost operators. All workshops featured presentations by Peer Experts and other compost specialists. A “field day” tour of a compost site is included at the end of the workshops, with presentations by compost operators. Presentations were done in PowerPoint and posted to the NERC Compost Marketing webpage. All participants receive hard copies of the NERC compost marketing documents, a CD Resource Toolkit, workshop agenda, and a questionnaire to complete.
A wide range of compost marketing principles are presented at each workshop, along with state specific information on regulations (focusing on farm compost operations). Networking opportunities, interaction with presenters, Q&A, and a roundtable with all participants have proven to be very popular features of each of the workshops. Participants are asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of each workshop. The questionnaire inquires about current operation and marketing, marketing needs, and how the workshop may have helped them. Reviews of the workshops have been overwhelmingly favorable and successful in meeting the marketing skills and training goals of participants in the workshops.
A “Compost Operations and Marketing Training for Massachusetts” was held in 2012. This all-day event featured two Peer Expert speakers, the Project Leader, and other compost experts. The workshop was followed by a tour of Groundscapes Express and an overview of the operation presented by John Engwer, owner and operator of the company. (See attachment for the Training agenda)
The goal of the training was to present the important elements to successfully run and manage a compost operation in order to create and market a quality compost product. The event brought together 43 agricultural, commercial, and municipal compost operators, including twelve farmers and seven agricultural professionals.
Holly Wescott, founder and president of Compostabilities, LLC, was the primary presenter for the Training, providing a “Compost and Soils 101” overview; “Composting Basics: Microbes to Machinery,” a discussion of the science of composting, recipe development, composting methods and turning/aeration equipment, windrow management and monitoring, aerated static piles, and other compost technologies; and, “Getting the Site Right: Design to Operations,” providing an overview of site design and layout, space requirements, equipment, loading and off-loading, managing the operation, and potential problems and pests.
Massachusetts compost operations regulations were also discussed. Gerard Kennedy (Peer Expert) provided an overview of agricultural composting in Massachusetts and information on new requirements for registering an agricultural compost operation. Sumner Martinson (Peer Expert) discussed the Massachusetts Compost Regulations. Lisa Petruski, a soil conservationist at the U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service, provided an overview of the NRCS Compost Pad Construction and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
NERC Staff and Project Leader, Athena Lee Bradley, presented the compost marketing section of the Training— “Making a Quality Compost Product for Market.” The presentation provided a look at compost feedstocks and options for tip fees as revenue sources, quality assurance and product testing, compost market options, an introduction to marketing principles, compost as a commodity, the important of branding, promotion, social marketing in being a successful compost supplier, and good neighbor public and media relations.
Due to the popularity of the workshops, NERC staff time required for handling logistics and workshop preparation, responding to questions from registrants, conducting outreach to registrants, and follow-up was more than anticipated in the original proposal. Team Members and NERC staff did not want to limit the size of the workshops because of the tremendous educational and training opportunity involved.
Farmer Technical Assistance in Compost Marketing Plan Development
Two, on-farm technical assistance consultations were completed in 2012, for a total of nineteen farm beneficiary visits to date. Additional, follow-up on-farm consultations were provided to five beneficiaries that had received a previous technical assistance visit. Initial site visits involve a discussion with the farm compost operators, a tour of their compost operation, a review of their current operation, compost products, and marketing goals to include in the compost market plan development. NERC staff provides on-site technical assistance and suggestions for operational improvements, marketing, product packaging, distribution, product sales, and more.
Fourteen compost market plans were completed in 2012 by NERC staff with input and review by farm beneficiaries. Ongoing contact has continued with beneficiaries and resources and technical assistance provided upon request. Additional follow-up on-farm consultations are being scheduled 2013.
2010 On-Farm Visits
March 30, 2010 – Laurel Brook Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut
June 9, 2010 – Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, New York
June 9, 2010 – Collins Compost in Enfield, Connecticut
August 17, 2010 –Tripp’s Dairy Farm in Westport, Massachusetts
August 17, 2010 –Newland Farm in Norton, Massachusetts
August 17, 2010 –Aquidneck Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
September 16, 2010 – Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, Massachusetts
September 16, 2010 – Gray Craig Farm in Belchertown, Massachusetts
2011 On-Farm Visits
January 13 – Cobblestone Valley Farm (Beneficiaries) in Preble, NY
• Second Visit – Nov 11, 2012
January 13 — Devine Gardens in Nelson, New York
• Second Visit – Nov 10, 2012
January 14 – Fern Hill Farm Compost in Red Creek, New York
• Second Visit – Nov 11, 2012
January 14 – Higher Ground Farm in Hoosick Falls, New York
February 23 – Coker Farm in Bedford, New York
May 6 – White Clover Farm in Fairfax, Vermont.
June 21 – Always Something Farm in Croydon, New Hampshire
• Second Visit – Dec 5, 2012
September 15 – Shadow Valley Farm in Somers, Connecticut
September 26 – Fiddlehead Farm in Rhinebeck, New York
2012 On-Farm Visits
May 17 – Mayval Farm, Westhampton, Massachusetts
May 17 – Amend Organics, Belchertown, Massachusetts
• Second visit – Dec. 19 2012
It should be noted that all 41 workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff. However, not all beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were farmers, so these individuals were ultimately eliminated from receiving assistance. Additionally, others who expressed interest did not actually have a marketable product yet, so many of these individuals were provided guidance and additional information, but were not included in the on-farm consultations. The Project Leader also attempted to schedule three site visits with beneficiaries but did not receive responses from the farmer beneficiaries after several attempts.
The need to provide more general composting and product development information to many of the beneficiaries slowed progress in completing the marketing plans. Information for development of beneficiary-specific compost marketing plans was discussed at each on-farm consultation. However, farmers were reluctant to take on the actual writing of the plans. Consequently, more NERC staff time and expertise in the development of the compost marketing plans was required than had been anticipated in the original proposal. Additionally, the extra time spent by NERC staff on the workshops, as noted above, also impacted the progress on completion of the marketing plans.
Fourteen compost marketing plans have been completed and sent to farmer beneficiaries for review and input. At the second on-farm consultation visits the marketing plans are discussed, along with the verification questions required for inclusion in the project case studies.
At least one additional marketing plan will be completed. On-farm consultation follow-up visits will be scheduled to at least eight of the beneficiaries in 2013; remaining beneficiaries will receive follow-up phone calls.
Completed marketing plans will be included in the case studies for the project and posted. (See attachment for a sample completed marketing plan.)
- Compost Operations and Marketing Training Flier
- Compost Operations and Marketing Training
- Compost Operations Tour
- Always Something Farm Compost Marketing Plan
- Compost Operations and Marketing Training Agenda
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Response to the outreach conducted for the workshops held in all states was successful. Email outreach and Web postings proved effective at reaching farmer beneficiaries, as well as leading to multiple postings by agricultural specialists and farm advocacy groups interested in promoting farmer opportunities to their email listservs, Websites, and blogs. This proved especially effective in New York and Massachusetts where farm organizations are particularly active. Additionally, Team Members and agricultural specialists in New York and Massachusetts are more active in promoting composting as a viable component of whole-farm systems. Their outreach proved to be more targeted to compost operators. In New Jersey and New Hampshire, agricultural specialists contacted were not supportive of working on the compost workshops in their states and Project Team Members for these two states were not active. The NOFA organizations for both states were supportive, especially NOFA New Jersey and both proved to be viable options for assisting in development, organization and outreach of the workshops.
The participation in the workshops has been much higher than originally anticipated. Although the workshops are geared toward farmers and agricultural specialists, project Team Members did not want to limit participation to the workshops. Additional participants included private and municipal compost facility operators. The wide variety of participants in the workshops resulted in increased knowledge and a wealth of information shared with all participants during the networking and roundtable opportunities.
The knowledge exchanged during the networking and roundtables proved invaluable to the farmer beneficiaries, since many of these participants were new to compost operation and marketing. While remaining true to the needs of farmer beneficiaries, this model for open workshops presents an excellent opportunity for farmers to learn from private sector businesses.
Participants have come from multiple states to attend the workshops (New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont). In addition to the workshop participants, inquiries about the project and resources have come from around the country and Canada. Given that little directed outreach was conducted outside of the four participating states for the workshops, plus the large number of participants in the workshops, the need for compost marketing information is clearly apparent.
Workshop attendees were very positive in their review of the workshops and Toolkit Resources. All presenters were highly qualified and made outstanding presentations. Participants were engaged and especially noted the benefits of the roundtable discussion part of the workshops.
On the workshop participant questionnaire, participants were asked: “What marketing skills did you hope to gain from participating in today’s workshop? Did the workshop help you obtain those skills?” Participant responses were overall positive. Critical comments made in the early workshops were considered during the planning for additional workshops in order to better meet beneficiary needs.
In speaking with agricultural specialists who attended the workshops, many expressed interest in using the knowledge from the workshops and the CD Resource Toolkit to further compost marketing knowledge in their area. The CD Resource Toolkit has proven to be a low-cost and highly effective tool for transmitting numerous resources, allowing for multiple copying and distribution of the resources. Agricultural specialists, in particular, have spoken highly of this tool as they can make multiple copies at low cost for their constituents. Additionally, NERC’s Compost Marketing webpage, created for the project, has been effective in providing the project resources to thousands of other beneficiaries at no cost.
One unexpected outcome of the project is that the majority of workshop participants have not been marketing their compost prior to attending and many have just started their compost operations. Consequently, the workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were not as far along in their compost operation as had been anticipated in the original proposal. NERC staff provided many beneficiaries with advice on their compost operation, however, since they were not ready to market materials, most were not included in the technical assistance component of the project. This has limited the number of on-site consultations to nineteen, which is under the Milestone goal of 25.
Fifteen of the beneficiaries receiving technical assistance have a viable compost product. Of these, fourteen have done at least some marketing of their compost product after participating in the workshops and on-farm consultation (one is using compost only on-farm currently, but hopes to eventually market a compost product). Technical assistance for the operations producing a compost product for sale has concentrated on developing a marketing plan, refining their product presentation, suggesting additional marketing strategies, and expanding their product sales to a wider customer base.
The remaining beneficiaries are in various stages of producing compost, with the eventual goal of integrating composting into their farm production and selling a viable compost product. These consultations have concentrated on offering technical assistance in making general improvements to their compost operation, strategizing on potential feedstocks and revenues from tipping fees, developing a more marketable product and helping beneficiaries to explore how to integrate compost product development and marketing into their overall farm business plan.
Regardless of the beneficiary status in terms of their compost operation, however, the on-farm consultations have proven to be an effective means of viewing the compost operation to gather information for the marketing plans and discuss the goals and plans with each farm operator. Additionally, these visits have served to spark immediate discussion on ideas for improving the operations and marketing techniques.
Unfortunately two beneficiaries who had successfully improved compost product sales last year have had to take on full-time off-farm jobs. This has obviously limited the amount of time they are able to devote to the farm compost operation.
In addition to the marketing plans, specific examples of NERC and team member assistance for beneficiaries in 2012:
• Insight into label and packaging designs for two beneficiaries.
• Farmers Markets and retail options for compost products.
• Potential feedstock options and tipping fee suggestions, including soliciting leaves from municipalities.
• Product presence and presentation at local farmers markets and garden centers.
• Use of horse manure for farm-based vermicomposting operation and marketing a “compost-vermicompost” product mix.
• Information on compost quality tests available.
• Potential impact on farm compost operations from the proposed Massachusetts regulations banning food scraps from landfill disposal.
1 Winter St.
Office Phone: 6172925969
SUNY Cobleskill, Agricultural Engineering Dept.
115 Curtis-Mott Hall
Cobleskill, NY 12043
Office Phone: 5182555691
Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources
Suite 500, 251 Causeway Street
Boston, MA 02114
Office Phone: 6176261773
Kreher’s Poultry Farms/Kreher’s Compost
5411 Davison Rd.
Clarence, NY 14031
Office Phone: 7167596802
120 Chester Road Derry
Derry, NH 03038
Office Phone: 6034325263
Watts Family Farm
23 Falmouth Sandwich
Sandwich, MA 02571
Office Phone: 5084773302
Mass Natural Fertilizer Co., Inc.
65 Bean Porridge Hill Rd.
Westminster, MA 01473
Office Phone: 9788740744