Commercial composting enables farmers and others across the globe to reduce storage and upkeep costs while increasing the efficiency of their operations. Especially in these uncertain times, farms everywhere can benefit from reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and maximizing output. Here’s how compost turners can help you achieve that goal for your farm!

Understanding the cost and efficiency of different methods

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (“CIAS”) analyzed various composting systems that use common farm equipment or specialized composting machinery. The goal of the study was to determine the most effective and least intrusive ways that dairy farmers could incorporate compost-turning systems into their operations. The study compared the findings against long-term storage. It was found that composting can alleviate expensive, long-term storage systems that use large warehouses or structures. Costs included with storage include labor, maintenance, disposal, and fees. The study worked by estimating the costs of four composting methods: tractor-drawn compost turners, existing front-end loaders, hiring help with a compost turner, and leasing a bulldozer. CIAS believed that an estimate of these four programs could help farmers determine if windrow composting is appropriate for their farms. The researchers examined the equipment and labor costs for a standard 60-cow dairy farm. Specifically, they calculated the time it takes to form the windrow pile, turn the compost, and reload it. This included setup and disassembly time for the equipment for each of the four methods as well.

How do the costs line up?

The CIAS study found the average cost for each method on a standard 2.1-acre lot to be $2,450 a year. That number includes the cost of straw to mix, labor, electricity, and fuel. The study was based on a scale of 60 cows, assuming four pounds of manure were produced per day by each cow.
    • The bulldozer required an additional $1,420 in annual rent to lease the equipment.
    • Hiring someone to use custom equipment cost $3,055 a year to account for the labor costs.
    • Yearly operational costs were the lowest for the bulldozer and front-end loader methods, at around $142 per cow each year.
    • The next least costly method operationally was the custom-hired compost turners at $170 per cow per year and $185 for compost turning.
The researchers also estimated total equipment costs. They found that composting under any method requires about $12,600 in initial equipment investments. Under the tractor method, it cost an additional $16,600 to acquire the tractor. The front-end loader cost about $2,750, while the bulldozer or custom help program wouldn’t need any equipment costs beyond the initial $12,600. All told, the researchers found that the bulldozer and custom hire methods were the cheapest at $210 a cow. The front-end loader cost about $256 per cow, and the compost turner alone was the most expensive at $456 per cow. However, the researchers also cautioned that while the compost turner was the most expensive, it was also the most efficient composting system. The study noted that farmers who share equipment could substantially reduce these costs.

Choosing the best composting method for your farm

The CIAS study found that composting is a viable option to manage manure if farmers use existing equipment, custom help, or rent/share machinery.
    • The bulldozer and front-end loader methods are the cheapest, but also the least efficient. You should decide whether cost or efficiency is more important for you.
    • The researchers noted that custom help or compost turner systems are more efficient, but not necessarily the cheapest.
    • Finally, farms could share equipment to reduce costs AND benefit from the efficiency of the more expensive methods.

What does all of this mean for your operation?

Whether you run a dairy farm or handle crops, your farm can see a number of benefits from composting. First, as the study suggests, you can save money and reduce waste. You can also make money if you decide to sell the compost that you make. By using your compost, you can improve the soil quality and crop output on your farm as well.

The mechanics of compost turning

Establishing a plan for composting will require some planning. Here are the basics to help you get started.
    • You must create windrow piles. Windrows are simply long piles of compost rather than tall ones. Just make sure you have enough space and materials to plan your windrows correctly.
    • Turn your windrows regularly. The frequency at which you turn the piles will depend on a number of factors. These include windrow size, location, materials used, and moisture content of the compost. Many farmers turn their compost two to four times.
    • Keep an eye on the composting process. You should monitor the conditions of your compost often to make sure it is forming properly. Check for moisture levels and make sure the chemicals are balanced. Good quality compost requires a moist, oxygen-rich environment.

Custom compost turner solutions from SCARAB International

Understanding the costs and effectiveness of compost-turning methods can help you choose the most efficient system for your operation. If you would like to learn more about how a compost turner could benefit your farm, contact the experts at Scarab International today! We specialize in customized compost turners to fit your specific needs. You can call us at (806) 883-7621 or Contact Us by email to learn more about our Products and Services. We offer new, refurbished, and used compost turners, as well as leasing options.