Protecting Water Quality and Promoting Economic Efficiency at Agricultural Composting Facilities

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2010: $49,115.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Nick Andrews
Oregon State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, hops, oats, potatoes, rapeseed, safflower, sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: hazelnuts, walnuts
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals, trees
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, rabbits, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: manure management, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, risk management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter


    This project sought to assist farmers in meeting mandatory composting regulations adopted in 2009 by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This project developed a publication and resources for the web; conducted outreach such as workshops, a focus group and a survey of experienced composters; and encouraged growers to adopt BMPs that protect water quality while composting in an economically viable way.


    In 2009, DEQ adopted new rules for composting facilities in Oregon. Under these rules, Oregon’s farmers are required to manage environmental risk at their composting sites. Oregon State University (OSU) faculty had represented the interests of agricultural composters at the rule-making meetings to avoid requirements that agricultural composters operate under the same guidelines and permitting system as industrial composters.

    When well-managed, agricultural composting improves soil structure and soil fertility and supports regional organic waste recycling goals. In our region, compost feedstock is often generated in late summer and fall, and compost piles are built in the fall and managed during wet weather. Water quality can be impacted by poorly managed compost facilities, especially as the scale of the agricultural composting operation increases. Some farmers have developed low-cost and effective techniques for minimizing the environmental risk of composting.

    The cost of environmental controls at agricultural composting facilities has the potential to inhibit on-farm composting. The overall goal of this project was to provide agricultural composters with opportunities to understand the intent and process of Oregon’s composting regulations and feel more confidence in that process.
    Specific objectives of the project were to: 1) educate farmers on environmentally sound composting methods, 2) educate regulators on the differences between industrial and agricultural composting, 3) provide a collaborative, participatory environment in which the two groups gained knowledge of the others’ context and experience, 4) organize and deliver farmer focus sessions and farm visits to identify promising management alternatives to protect water quality, and 5) draft an extension best practices guide, informed by project partners.

    A formal literature review was performed in preparation of publication output of this project: Agricultural Composting and Water Quality. The resultant bibliography can be found at the end of this report.

    Project objectives:

    1. Conduct two agricultural composting tours. Ultimately, farmers preferred not to host a tour of their composting operations. Instead of the tours, farms were visited for individual consultation. In effect, the tour came to farmers, instead of farmers going to the tour.

      Conduct two focus group interviews. An initial focus group interview was held 2/25/11. This session provided interested growers the opportunity to give suggestions for project direction and focus. A few of the farmers participating in this initial meeting became integral parts of on-going project and participated in review of the project publication: Agricultural Composting and Water Quality. One focus group outcome was restructuring the approach for project interaction with the farmer group for the remainder of the project. Project participant interviews were conducted on a farm-by-farm basis. This approach included more farmers than would attend meetings, and by allowing project personnel to see the composting site rather than speaking in generalities, it provided opportunities for better communication.

      Obtain grower input on BMP manual. Done.

      Complete individual farmer interviews about composting practices and perception of the regulatory process. A standardized survey, approved by OSU Institutional Review Board, was the instrument used to gather data about existing on-farm composting facilities and grower intentions for water quality protection at these facilities in the future. Survey administration permitted farmers to ask questions of project personnel that might not be raised in a group meeting. The survey allowed data to be summarized without revealing specifics about individual composting operations. Done.

      Analyze and interpret survey results. Done.

      Complete and disseminate final BMP manual, which reflects farmer input. Done.

      Post link to final BMP manual on project website: Agricultural Composting and Water Quality, EM 9053, Oregon State University Extension Service. Will do.

      Build and maintain project website. In process.

    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.