Twelve reasons to make and use compost

By Dr. Paul Hepperly
August 11, 2005

Paul Hepperly, Research and Training Manager for the Rodale Institute, recently traveled to Ghana as part of a three-week volunteer effort to help West African villagers learn about organic farming methods. In the course of his teachings he emphasized the importance of a healthy soil base for productive fields. One of the best ways to fertilize the soil naturally is to make use of compost. Here Dr. Paul shares his motivations for composting.

1. Materials to make compost are usually free and locally available, whereas synthetic fertilizer prices rise with fuel prices.

4. By opening the soil structure, compost reduces run-off and erosion and improves percolation of water through the soil, protecting groundwater supplies and helping crops withstand dry spells.

2. Compost is more nutrient dense than raw animal manure, and gives longer-lasting results than synthetic fertilizer or raw manure.

3. When made from a variety of plant materials and animal manures, compost can provide a more complete range of nutrients for plants than synthetic fertilizer or raw manure.

5. Compost reduces the tendency of clay soils to crust over, which can interfere with seed emergence. It also reduces the tendency of some soils to form compact clay layers or plow pans.

6. By improving soil tilth, compost can reduce the force needed to till the soil. This means less animal power or fuel is needed to operate your farm.

7. High-temperature composting can kill weed seeds, insect pests and disease-causing bacteria, and reduces the odors associated with animal manure.

8. By feeding soil biotic communities, compost increases overall biological activity, which in turn improves nutrient cycling and boosts plant health.

9. Compost is known to suppress various root diseases in crops, and can help crops can better tolerate insect attack.

10. Experience of local farmers suggests that compost improves the storability of corn seed and produces a better-tasting corn meal.

11. Compost can build soil carbon and reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. This helps moderate greenhouse gas increases that contribute to climate change.

12. Compost works as an antidote to the toxicities of agricultural chemicals, accelerating the effectiveness of biologically based farming methods and thus helping farmers transition from chemical to organic farming. As soils improve, less compost required.