Dairy’s Organic Compost: Building Soil, Protecting Water Resources

People drive up daily to the little white shed at the entrance of Ed Koetsier’s dairy. They grab a few unmarked white bags, put them in their trunk, leave a few dollars in a box and drive off.

“Folks love this stuff,” said Koetsier. “It’s fresh, organic, pathogen-free compost, and the home-gardeners rave about it.”

Like his fellow dairy farmers, the word “waste” will not be heard when Koetsier discusses the manure his 1,400 cows produce. That’s because manure is a natural fertilizer that is rich in nutrients and soil-building organic material.

“When we moved our dairy from Chino to Tulare, we didn’t have quite enough land to fully utilize all the manure nutrients we had on the dairy. In the early days, we sold the manure to other farmers. Then came the idea to start making compost right here on the dairy.”

Today, Koetsier produces several thousand tons of compost annually on his dairy. Manure solids from the cows are separated and then spread out in long rows. Koetsier uses a method called windrow composting, where the rows are turned over to improve oxygen flow and redistribute cooler and hotter portions of the pile. Over time, pathogens are cooked out, creating an organic, safe and nutrient-rich soil amendment. With his compost in high demand by area farmers, Koetsier is taking steps to have it undergo the Organic Materials Review Institute’s (OMRI) process for certification.

For Koetsier, composting on the farm offers another important local benefit.

“Composting is another tool we use for protecting water quality, and it provides a higher value product to gardeners and farmers. Moving nutrients off the dairy is an important part of our Nutrient Management Plan, helping us maintain a good nitrogen balance on the farm.”

— Dairy Cares is a statewide coalition supporting economic and environmental sustainability and responsible animal care. Our members include Bar 20 Dairy Farms, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Dairies Inc., California Dairy Campaign, California Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America-Western Area Council, Dairy Institute of California, GHD Services, Inc., Harris Construction, Hilmar Cheese Co., HP Hood, Joseph Gallo Farms, Land O’Lakes, Merck Animal Health, Milk Producers Council, Ruan Transport Corp., Western United Dairymen, Yosemite Farm Credit and others. For information, visit our web site or call 916-441-3318.