What is Compost Good For?
1) Building Soils on Farmland
Pennsylvania currently has 7.7 million acres of farmland. Fully 55% is in pasture, forage or woodland. Only 29% is in grains, 1% is in vegetables and 1% is in fruit trees. Most cropland acres are low in soil organic matter: a result of our heavy rains and inadequate soil cover.
Compost is the single most important material input in building the long-term health, strength, productivity and employment potential of our farmland. Applying best-practice rates of compost to farmland over 2 or 3 years…
- Increases yields (reduces losses) over wet and dry periods
- Reduces need, use and expense of irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and biocides
- Increases yields on marginal lands
- Allow greater diversity of production to meet growing consumer interest in local and regional foods, especially when these are grown sustainably
2) Healing Degraded Soils and Building Healthy Soil on Degraded Sites
There are currently more than 200,000 acres of non-farm degraded land in Southwestern PA alone. This land includes old industrial sites (brownfields), formerly mined areas, and urban vacant lots.
Compost is the single most important material input in the healing and transformation of this land into healthful, attractive and productive uses (gardens, greenhouses, farms, parks, etc.), and in generating employment.
Soil Organic Matter and its Benefits
Soil Organic Matter (SOM) is that part of soil that is or was once alive. There are three types of benefits that soils gain when SOM increases from <3% to 5% or greater.
- Structural. Compost increases soil porosity, and thereby a soil’s capacity to absorb and hold water, air and nutrients, as well as for these to circulate and exit the topsoil through roots, drainage, etc.
- Chemical. Compost provides a wide range of macro- and micro-nutrients. While it does not provide nitrogen in the concentrations of commercial fertilizer, it provides all nutrients in forms that are accessible to plant roots and at concentrations that they can readily absorb. Compost also neutralizes pH (e.g. reducing acidity) and increases Cation Exchange Capacity, a soil’s capacity to hold nutrients.
- Ecological: Compost increases the soil’s biodiversity, including a range of organisms that naturally control pathogen (disease) and pest outbreaks through predation and parasitism.