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