Farm-fabricated on-farm composting equipment project: Aerating equipment

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,182.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Tom Gilbert
The Highfields Institute

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: municipal wastes, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter, composting

    Proposal abstract:

    The Farm-fabricated On-Farm Composting Equipment Project is an effort to increase the availability of affordable composting technologies to farmers in order to further promote the more widespread integration of composting and compost use in agriculture. SARE funds will be used for the aerating equipment section of this project, in which we will focus on developing two significantly different aerating technologies.

    One design is an attempt to make the concept of the commercially-available, tractor-drawn windrow turners more economically accessible. The second design modifies a conventional front-end loader bucket into an aerating bucket that aerates the pile with bucket-mounted tines. The implement designs will be tested, modified, trialed, and assessed on common parameters. A two-page product comparison of these implements and other equipment for aerating compost will be compiled.

    Fabrication manuals will be developed for each implement design. The manuals will be available for the cost of copying or as a free download. An extensive outreach program will enable us to share these designs with farmers and advertise the availability of the fabrication manuals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    On-farm composting offers a simple, effective and beneficial approach for managing manure and other organic material byproducts through controlled biological processes that stabilize and conserve nutrients, destroy weed seeds and pathogens, humify organic matter and yield a finished product with renowned soil enhancing qualities. Using compost as an agricultural soil amendment improves overall tilth, moisture and nutrient holding capacities, crop disease resistance, organic matter content, and reduces odors, flies and issues of environmental contamination associated with raw manure. On-farm composting can also diversify farm income through sales of compost and tipping fees for accepting organic materials such as food waste from off the farm, as well as reduce costs associated with purchasing chemical and organic fertilizers, disposing of dead animals, and reduced productivity associated with poor soil tilth.

    Additionally, yield improvements from the use of compost also increases farm efficiency and profitability, while subsequent improvements to cultivated soils can reduce the environmental impacts that nutrient leaching and soil erosion cause. All of these benefits in sum significantly contribute to the long-term sustainability and immediate viability of Vermont family farms and the ecology that supports them.

    While the merits of composting as a management tool for processing farm-generated organic materials such as manure and the use of the resultant compost product for soil building are commonly accepted and celebrated in agriculture, composting has not been integrated into farm operations to the extent that its merits would suggest. This is, in part, the result of one common issue: many farmers feel that composting is too time and capital intensive. To reduce the labor and equipment costs associated with composting, some farms use passive windrows; however, the variability associated with the quality of this product as compared to the product from actively turned windrows, as well as the lack of thorough heating that destroys weed seeds and pathogens, are significant drawbacks.

    The issue that needs to be addressed in making on-farm composting a more readily adopted management practice is in increasing the availability of low-cost, effective aerating and mixing technologies that help to improve composting efficiencies on the farm.

    The secondary problem that results from the void in low-cost equipment being available for on-farm composting is that the attributes associated with composting and compost use are not fully leveraged for the benefit of individual farms and the greater interface between agriculture and the ecology in which it functions. Composting manures and the use of the resultant compost product can help to address several very pertinent agricultural issues, such as phosphorous-loading of surface waters, the spread of manure-borne pathogens, nitrogen leaching and volatilization, soil quality, reducing input costs, and economic diversification. In many instances the improvement in farm management is combined with a reduced environmental stress.

    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.