The pioneers currently staking their claims in the marketplace will determine the future of the composting industry. A partnership that commands attention is that between EcoAg Initiatives Inc. and Agricore Cooperatives Inc., two Alberta-based companies that link the environmental needs of the cattle feedlot industry with the sale of compost as a value-added agricultural commodity. The cattle feedlot industry is primarily located in southern Alberta. About 50 large feedlots (15,000 plus head per lot) produce about 80 per cent of the cattle.
“Target markets include agriculture, horticulture, soil remediation and reclamation, organic growers and retail.”
Cattle produce a lot of manure — a valuable resource that can become too much of a good thing if not handled properly. Land application is a long-standing method of manure management and contributes valuable nutrients, such as: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur and a large range of micronutrients. The potential problem, though, is that the manure can be over-applied and cause both soil and pollution problems. It’s costly to haul manure long distances, so there is large potential for over-application and for leaching onto adjacent properties. So, EcoAg provides onsite compost operations.
“We’ve entered into several formal contracts with various Alberta cattle feedlots,” says General Manager Jim Shaner. “The savings realized by the feedlot through the elimination of spreading costs and the reduction of hauling distances can be substantial.”
The feedlot is responsible for the construction of an engineered windrow compost site while EcoAg is responsible for compost management, costs and removal. The company generates its only revenue stream from the sale of the compost to its distributor, Agricore.
“The composting process begins with assisting our feedlot operator in the supervision of pen cleaning,” says Shaner. “This ensures that the manure delivered to the composting pad is free of large stone, that the manure is not contaminated with clay from the pens and that it is mixed at the pens with enough bedding material to supply an acceptable carbon to nitrogen ratio for the composting process.”
“It’s costly to haul manure long distances … EcoAg provides onsite compost operations.”
Operation records are kept for internal review and for an annual report to Alberta’s environment ministry. In addition to the heavy metal and pathogen testing requirements of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), tests are also performed for other nutrients, electrical conductivity, sodium absorption ratios and content, and organic matter.
Target markets for the compost include agriculture, horticulture, soil remediation and reclamation, organic growers and retail. The product is marketed under the brand name The Real Thing Farm Compost and is sold at the 15 Agricore centres, located in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The centres offer a full range of agronomic services, including fertility recommendations for specific crops.