29 June 2001




Composting of household biodegradable waste could provide

business for quite a few farmers in years to come. A

conference happening next month should provide information

COMPOSTING is a growing industry that is being driven forward in the UK by the need to divert biodegradable waste away from landfill.

But although the number of composting facilities is growing steadily, there is still a big need to increase the amount of waste composted if the UK is to meet its commitments under the Landfill Directive. This demand could be beneficial for farmers wanting to diversify.

Many different systems of composting operate successfully in the UK, but there could be capacity problems if the amount of waste for composting increases substantially. Waste-derived compost is different from the other growing media used in horticulture and it should be regarded more as a soil conditioner or improver rather than a typical growing medium.

It may be uneconomical to transform waste-derived composts into products that are entirely suitable for horticulture, so more markets will have to be expanded or established. Despite this, waste-derived compost is a valuable resource and has a number of potential uses.

By far the biggest and most sustainable market for this resource is agriculture. Farming offers a huge potential market for waste-derived composts and in view of the Landfill Directive, now is the time for farmers to get into composting. There are already more than 65 on-farm composting operations in the UK and there are opportunities for many more.

It could be a good farm diversification, for instance. Gate fees can be charged for taking green waste onto your farm (ranging from £12 to £20/t). With existing machinery usable and ample land available, little more is required to start up an enterprise. There are some rules and regulations, and planning permission and a waste management licence or exemption must be obtained.

Waste-derived composts are also good for improving soil condition and plant health, a characteristic much needed in many deteriorating UK soils. Composts supply nutrients, beneficial microbes and, above all, organic matter to the soil. Applied to land effectively, they can improve crop yields, topsoil stability and soil fertility, and reduce soil erosion. These benefits can reduce the need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides and so bring significant savings.

Harper-Adams University College in Shropshire is hosting a one-day conference on on-farm composting on July 17. The aim is to link representatives of local authorities and waste management companies with farmers to learn about the issues and look at the opportunities for on-farm composting. The programme, aimed at farmers wanting to diversify into this area, will include seminars and workshops, all led by key players in the composting world.

For more information, contact Simon Jones at Harper-Adams University College on 01952-815335 or e-mail him at sjones@harper-adams.ac.uk

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