USDA Opens New Compost
October 20, 1997
BELTSVILLE, Md., Oct. 20--The
U.S. Department of Agriculture's new compost
research facility here will demonstrate the benefits of recycling--saving the
environment and money--Deputy Agriculture Secretary Richard Rominger said today
at a 10:00 a.m. dedication ceremony.
"The scientists will develop and test new technologies for
cooperative recycling-- ways to reduce urban landfill problems while turning
excess nutrients and other potential pollutants into valuable products such as
organic fertilizer for farms and gardens," said Rominger. "To put the research
results into the hands of those who can use it, USDA will join with private
industry to develop and transfer new recycling and composting
The new facility is located at the
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center
(BARC), which is part of the Agricultural
Research Service, USDA's chief scientific agency.
"Composting converts nitrogen and other nutrients into stable
forms that are less likely to enter waterways," said Rominger. "The facility
will also help us comply with Maryland's voluntary nutrient management program,
designed to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the Chesapeake Bay. The project
also has national implications for developing similar recycling cooperation
between farms and towns."
The new facility's 77,000-square-foot composting pad is itself
built partly of recycled materials such as coal ash from electric power plants.
"We expect to save $13,000 a year by reducing landfill fees and by
converting leftover farm, urban and industrial materials to fertilizer, potting
mixes and mulch for use throughout the Beltsville center," Rominger said.
To build the recycling pad, coal ash was mixed into the clay
subsoil along with quick lime and cement dust, said
Lawrence J. Sikora, an ARS
microbiologist at Beltsville's
Soil Microbial Systems
Laboratory. The finished product is almost as durable as concrete or
asphalt, but costs about one-fourth as much and is easier to repair, he added.
Sikora said he believes this is the first composting pad built
this way, although the basic technique has been successful on roads and dairy
barn feedlot pads. The organic leftovers or residues are composted in nearly 20
"windrows" on the pad. "Each row is 160 feet long, 40 inches high and 5 feet
wide, with about 45 tons of residue piled in a triangular shape," Sikora said.
"We expect to compost about 10,000 tons a year."
Since January, Randy Townsend, a Maryland-certified compost
operator, has composted residue from BARC's farmland and greenhouses. The
residues include cattle and poultry manure, used potting soil, dead greenhouse
plants, landscape trimmings, unusable produce, hay, grains and corn ground as
silage for cattle feed.
For four years, Sikora and other ARS researchers have grown corn,
soybeans and winter wheat in soils amended with residues from diverse sources,
including cement and coal processors, seafood plants and compost producers.
Yields were higher with many of the composts than with commercial fertilizer.
Sikora and colleagues will use research bins to find ways to
stabilize phosphorus, further reduce losses of nitrogen to the air and control
odors. "We are also creating designer composts for specific uses such as
natural biological biocontrol of vegetable diseases," Sikora said.
Other residues for composting will include drywall and other
construction scraps and byproducts from the electric power industry. On these
projects, BARC is working with cooperators such as the Gypsum Association of
Washington, D.C., and the National Association of Home Builders research center
in Upper Marlboro, Md.
Composting research at other ARS locations--including labs in
Alabama, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Texas--has led to two cooperative
research and development agreements:
- With the U.S. Department of Energy's Technology Center in
Morgantown, W. Va., and Fort Drum Co-Generation Partners, Fort Drum, N.Y., to
test farm applications of ash from electric power plants, including a dairy
- With Tascon, Inc., Houston, Texas, to develop a potting mix by
recycling waste paper compressed into pellets and mixed with poultry litter or
other manures. The pellets can also be spread on land, either mixed as a "green
manure" or spread as a surface mulch to protect soil from strong winds. The
pellets may also have herbicidal qualities.
Scientific contact: Lawrence J. Sikora, microbiologist,
Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-9384, fax (301)