It surprises a lot of people that our ag operation includes large-scale composting. What began as a one-time “gift” of turkey manure has grown into a thriving recycling company. Today, AgRecycle processes between 6-7000 tons of manure, corn by-products, food waste, grass clippings, leaves, and wood scrap.
In the early 90s, Purdue Turkey Farms needed to dispose of turkey manure from their operations. They didn’t have enough land, and their turkey houses were close to our farm. We had to borrow a manure spreader, since we didn’t have any livestock. It was obvious they needed an outlet year-round for manure disposal. We accepted the challenge in determining how best to process this material in a way that was good for the environment, Purdue, and Lamb Farms. Over the next 10 years, we learned a great deal about composting.
Pure turkey manure, as well as chicken or other animal waste, is high in nitrogen. While it can replace commercial nitrogen in soil conditioning, it needs carbon. The ideal ratio is 25 to 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. We learned that the turkey manure didn’t make a good compost product by itself due to its pure nitrogen makeup. Regardless of how well we managed the turkey waste, the end product lacked carbon.
It wasn’t practical to add enough carbon, so we cut down on the amount of turkey manure we accepted for processing and increased other materials high in carbon such as straw, leaves, and wood, (anything bulky or woody). Other high nitrogen materials include other animal manure, and grass clippings.
Now we take a range of materials – horse, cattle, turkey, leaves from the city of Lebanon, wood trimmings from different tree trimmer companies, food waste, and some by-products from corn processing plants. We’ve learned the more variety in materials you have, the better your compost, since there is a lot of different biological activity.
In composting, nutrients become the secondary goal, it’s the soil biology that improves with composted material. The organisms that thrive in this environment is what benefits the soil and helps reduce nutrient depletion year after year.
Growing AgRecycle to this point involved a lot of education and collaboration with agencies such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. We’ve done our homework and keep accurate records on both the material we accept and the material we send out. The results have to balance in order for us to be recognized as a true recycling operation. We like having them monitor us because it gives us reassurance that we are doing things correctly. When you have an operation that you are proud of and don’t have anything to hide, you want to do well, not just for business, but for the overall benefit of the environment.
Anything that can be composted shouldn’t go in a landfill. By composting, you save landfill costs and help the environment. It is our hope, as we see ag recycling grow in importance, that every county in Indiana would have an ag recycling and composting program. The materials we use are diverted from the overall waste stream that is becoming such a challenge for many municipalities and county governments to handle.
We have both commercial accounts and individuals who bring in materials. There is a tipping fee for dropping off waste, which is often a lower cost option than a landfill. We also have several accounts where we pick up the material (for a fee) which operations, such as horse farms, find as an ideal solution to their needs.
Can you get excited about compost? I believe you can. When I look at the big picture, I get excited thinking, what if? What if ag composting sites become part of the standard waste stream? How much can we reduce the landfill volume by using a natural alternative that increases the biological activity of our soil and reduces a farm’s fertilizer costs?
There’s a whole segment of an industry waiting to be developed.
If you are near us, we invite you to check into our AgRecycle operation, we may be a viable solution for your disposal needs. We welcome both our rural neighbors and companies. Stop by and check it out.