A Pellet at a Time: Experimenting with Compost

Earlier this year, while seeding our safflower and KAMUT® wheat, we mentioned adding something called COMPELL compost pellets to several acres of these two crops. In my experience, each farm is as individual as the farmer who works on it, so a promising new idea being tested elsewhere may produce completely different results on our farm. And that’s what we’re testing here.

If you’ve ever spread compost in your backyard garden, you already know it’s hard work and those bags you picked up at your local greenhouse add up quickly. Because most gardens are small and the value of the crops are high, the investment in compost is worth it. However, while spreading 10 tons of compost per acre on a wheat field may provide a big boost to the wheat, this boost also comes at a huge economic loss. So, when my friend Tom called to say he had a new product—compressed compost pellets—which could be placed right with the seed at a rate of about 40 pounds per acre and show both agronomic and economic benefits, I was immediately interested.

Rather than applying prior to seeding, by spreading over the top of the soil, these pellets are actually put into the drills and seeded along with the crops. This is potentially beneficial in several ways. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is time since the compost pellets can be applied at the same time we’re seeding. It’s also far less product to purchase and handle overall; we only needed a few pounds of compost pellets per acre, versus the tons per acre that would have been required with the surface application of regular compost.

But I think one of the most interesting aspects of this compost pellet idea is the potential benefit for each individual seed. If we were to spread compost over an entire field, it certainly would be beneficial for the crop but it wouldn’t hurt the weeds either. By planting the compost pellets with the seeds, each plant has immediate access to the higher nutrition before the weeds get a chance to elbow in and the additions to the microbiological component is also right where the germinating seed can use it.

This year we split a few fields of safflower and KAMUT® grain into a handful of plots to which we applied varying rates of the compost pellets—between 0, 20, 40 and 80 pounds per acre. As with any good experiment, the variation gives us a good idea of what will potentially work best for us here on the farm. The company we purchased the pellets from has seen the most success with a 40-pound per acre application rate and for our KAMUT® grain we would agree, though we were a little disappointed the results were not more dramatic. The Kamut grain at the 40-pound application rate saw an increase of 8%, which did pay for the application but was quite a bit lower than had been seen in other years on other wheat fields. This year, however, may have been a bad one to experiment with due to all the unusual rain which produced so much disease. We are interested enough to continue our experiment another year with the KAMUT® wheat fields. Our safflower field, however, did not seem effected by the compost pellets at all and we saw no benefits, regardless of the rate.

Rest assured, we will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more.