Waste not: U sells excess compost

Through outside contract, the University is able to recoup some composting costs.

by Emily Cutts

Home to hundreds of animals, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs St. Paul campus has an excess of manure.

But to the University, the animal manure isnâÄôt waste âÄî itâÄôs a way to make money.

A barn on the St. Paul campus is dedicated to composting the materials. The University sells the product to a landscaping company which then sells it to various greenhouses, landscapers and other customers.

Currently, the University has a contract with Minnesota Mulch and Soil, a soil, compost and mulch recycling company. The company pays $6 a cubic yard for the compost made at the University.

The company picks up the compost on a weekly basis during the summer months. The money helps offset some of the UniversityâÄôs cost of transporting the manure from barn to barn.

âÄúWe do use some of [the compost] on some of our flowers and landscaping here on campus as well,âÄù said Jim Linn, head of the animal sciences department. âÄúBut most of it is stockpile composted for three to six months.âÄù

While the University sells the compost today, about 10 years ago it gave it away for free to community members.

âÄúWe entirely lost control of the product,âÄù Thomas Warnke, senior administrative director, said. âÄúWe had to gain control of the product and facilities. It was too much of a good thing.âÄù

The University sought a contract with a private company to better manage the compost. The calls from community members looking for free compost still come in, but as the years have passed, the calls come less and less often.

There are other options for managing the manure, but so far this has proven the best option for the University.

âÄúThere are various things people could do, but we donâÄôt have the land to spread manure back on like the traditional farmer in Minnesota,âÄù Linn said. âÄúComposting is our way of managing the nutrients and removing them from campus.âÄù

Although spreading it back onto farmland isnâÄôt a practical option for the University, the manure could be used to make energy. Another option would be to truck all the manure off campus. But by selling the compost, the University is able to recoup some of the costs.

Thomas Halbach, a University extension professor, said soil scientists, like himself, would like to see the nutrients recycled back into the topsoil.

Manure from the Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science barns is collected on a daily basis and brought to the compost barn.

Once brought to the compost barn, the manure begins to compost and is mixed with dry bedding. It is moved to an outdoor composting location after six weeks inside the barn.

On a monthly basis, there is approximately 700 cubic yards of manure collected and stored in the barn.

âÄúIt just depends on the number of animals,âÄù Warnke said.

Not all of the compost made is sold to Minnesota Mulch. According to Warnke, some of the leftovers are distributed across the University. For example, itâÄôs used on research plots, in soil mixtures for greenhouses, on the golf course and in flower and shrub beds.

If it is not used, it will continue to compost, like some in the outdoor piles which have been there for a year. Letting it compost longer makes for better quality compost.