WHERE THERE”S muck, there”s brass, and with today”s enthusiasm for recycling there are opportunities emerging almost weekly for farmers to get involved.

From small beginnings on his 200ha (500 acre) farm north of Wolverhampton eight years ago, when the company was created with co-founder and waste management expert Sid Lambert, David Tipton reckons to have created the largest on-farm composting firm in the UK.

This year Simpro will produce 100,000t of compost from council green waste at seven on-farm sites. And unlike commodity crop production waste processing is booming.

Tightening government policy on waste includes 150/t fines on authorities failing to meet landfill reduction targets, plus a land fill tax which is escalating at 3/t a year towards an EU target of 30/t.

FINES DRIVE DEMAND

All that is driven by the fact that the UK government can be fined by Brussels, under the EU Waste Directive, if it fails to hit a green waste composting target of 25m tonnes a year by 2015. In 2003 just 1.6m tonnes was composted, Mr Tipton notes. “There”s huge potential for farmers to get involved with something the public and the government actually wants.”

Simpro works in partnership with farmers, building and operating on-farm sites to an established blueprint. Host farms get a site rental fee, plus royalty on each tonne of waste processed. “Most sites can expect to generate 20,000 a year income, plus the farmer gets the compost for incorporating into his farmland,” Mr Tipton explains.

FARMER IMPRESSED

At the firm”s 12,000t a year Oxton recycling site near Nottingham, estate manager Ian Johnson is impressed. The 1600ha (3500 acre) farm grows cereals, beet and rape on light to medium land and lets ground for irrigated potatoes. Building organic matter is a key goal, particularly since straw is baled and removed for sale and a sheep enterprise. New cross-compliance requirements, including the Soil Code, add to the pressure, says Mr Johnson.

Since opening last June most of the compost has been stockpiled on a headland ready for use on a sandy field ahead of beet this spring. But some has already been used on land ahead of spring beans, the farm spreader applying 30t/ha (12t/acre). “The compost is quite dry, but the spread pattern is fine,” comments Mr Johnson.

In future he plans to use the compost ahead of a flat-lift with oilseed rape seeder attached to achieve effective, low-cost establishment. The thinking is that the extra organic matter will improve moisture retention, ensuring a more even crop.

Nutrient contents of the compost (see panel) are checked per batch and fed into Farmade software, so bagged fertiliser rates can be cut accordingly, to comply with nitrate vulnerable zone requirements.

The compost does contain traces of heavy metals along with the nutrients, Mr Tipton admits. But strict monitoring shows levels are all well below the Composting Association”s BSI PAS 100 acceptable limits (www.wrap.org.uk). Correct heating also ensures plant pathogens and weed seeds are killed and checks ensure E coli levels are below the BSI PAS 100 limit of 1000cfu/g and zero for Salmonella.

Plenty of scope exists for more farms to get involved. Simpro”s latest venture is a major on-farm site in the West Midlands, taking the company”s output above 100,000t in 2005. “There”s plenty more room for growth beyond that,” Mr Tipton concludes.

charles.abel@rbi.co.uk