Pa. farmers: Join a compost co-op


PITTSBURGH, Pa. — If you are a western Pennsylvania farmer looking to generate extra income for your operation and have an interest in composting, the Pennsylvania Resources Council wants to hear from you.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council is a nonprofit organization that has been devoting its energy to recycling since the 1970s.

In 2006, the council began working with restaurants, supermarkets and haulers to divert food waste to composting facilities.

“Our longer vision with this particular program is to encourage farmers to compost on their farms,” said Nick Shorr, project organizer at the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

So, the group wants to combine the byproducts of the restaurants and grocery stores with farmers’ resources and build composting areas across five Pennsylvania counties.

Shorr said the project is looking to develop clusters of farmers in several different areas surrounding Pittsburgh.

Farmer eligibility

The program is hoping to interest farmers in Armstrong, Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

Shorr said the program needs two farmers in each cluster area so that if one cannot accept the composting material being hauled in, the other is able to pick it up.

Farm requirements

There are no major requirements for a farm to participate in the program.

It needs a relatively flat, or gently sloping, area a quarter- to half-an-acre in size. The composting site should be located near a paved road for easier truck access.

The composting site also needs to be located at least 100 feet from a stream or wetland and 300 feet from an occupied dwelling or water source.

Labor requirements

There are some labor requirements for participating in the composting program. As the loads are received, they should be mixed into a windrow pile the same day. Windrows need to be turned and mixed every couple of weeks.

Depending on the length of the windrow and equipment used, mixing the windrows will take approximately an hour of the farmer’s time.

Income generated

The farmers will receive two income streams as a participating facility.

The first is the tipping fees paid from food-waste generators such as restaurants and supermarkets.

Shorr said depending on the volume and frequency of incoming waste and the division of fees between hauler and composter, the fees can range anywhere between $100 and $1,000 per week.

In addition, the farm would also receive income from the sales of finished compost beyond the needs of the cooperative members. Depending on the rate of production, cooperative member use, and price, the sale of compost could generate up to $600 per week.

Farm advantages

Other benefits for the farmer include using the compost as a substitute for a fertilizer and tapping into the knowledge of the Pennsylvania Resource Council to develop a viable composting operation.

Shorr said right now the Pennsylvania Resource Council is gauging interest and they are hoping to get the project in full swing for the next growing season.

Program funding

The Pennsylvania Resource Council, with a grant from USDA, will provide funding to purchase any necessary equipment for the program. The Council will also help in drafting a contract among farmers participating in the cooperative, provide technical assistance in planning and setting up the operation, help in filing paperwork and ensuring farmers follow and understand the requirements for on-farm composting in Pennsylvania.

Help available

In addition, the Pennsylvania Resource Council will locate an appropriate and interested independent hauler, help in negotiating contracts among the hauler, the waste generators and the farmer co-op, and assist the hauler in building a dense route of organic waste generators that would include a good mix of feedstock for quality compost

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