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Composting helping Kentucky farms go green

MIDWAY, Ky. (AP)--Some Kentucky horse and cattle farms looking to cut costs have found the answer on the bottom of their shoes.

Literally.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that at least 50 farms across the state are using a process called aerobic hot composting to turn horse manure into fertilizer that can be used in pastures and flower beds.

"There's no downside to this," said Brad Caron, director of facilities at Three Chimneys Farm.

The process began to take flight in the 1990s when the Thoroughbred Resource Conservation and Development Council in Georgetown received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to start the process with a few demonstration farms.

Creating the compost can be time-consuming. The muck is placed in windrows then turned mechanically for two or three months.

"It's a lot of work," said David Craig, agricultural and maintenance manager at Three Chimneys. "It's not a short-term investment."

Yet it's one that can pay off handsomely.

The rising cost of commercial fertilizer has farms looking for ways to save money. Hauling horse muck off a farm can be an expensive process. It can cost $300 to haul 20 tons of muck off a farm. Three Chimneys produces more than 1,100 tons of muck a year. Composting the muck instead of disposing it has helped Three Chimneys' expenses for dealing with the manure by 40 percent.

The end result of composting is a crumbly, odorless product that can improve the soil-quality. Carolyn Oldfield, coordinator for the Thoroughbred RC&D, keeps a small bucket of the compost in her office to show visitors.

"Beef cattle waste and horse muck, that's a perfect carbon-nitrogen ratio, and it really just looks almost like coffee, a beautiful material," she said.

Some farms are permitted to sell the compost as fertilizer, though most opt to simply reinvest the compost on their own land.

Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County sells just 20 percent of its compost, which has raw vegetables and shavings from a chicken hatchery added in the mix. The rest goes back into the field.

Though the process can seem daunting at first, the rewards have made a fan of Todd Foster, farm manager at Folsom Ridge Farm in Grant County. He started composting this spring after taking a class sponsored by the Thoroughbred RC&D.

"I have been hooked," he said. "The one thing that did it for me was that the price of fertilizer skyrocketed this year."

Foster said he hopes to have the farm stop using commercial fertilizer completely in about four years.

The idea is catching on beyond farms. Officials at Keeneland Race Course, which has about 900 loads of manure taken away each year, say they're discussing starting a permanent composting operation. The track experimented with composting over the summer.

1/12/09
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Date: 1/6/09



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