Financial benefits of using compost in agriculture

Compost is a natural, safe and environmentally friendly option to consider alongside inorganic fertiliser, and it can benefit your pocket too.

What is compost? 

Compost can be made from a wide variety of biodegradable materials, such as domestic garden (botanical) wastes or waste food. Some composting systems also process small amounts of paper, card, untreated wood and livestock manures.

Composting can be defined as “the natural breakdown of biodegradable materials through mixing, self-generated heating and aeration to form a stable, soil-like material”.

What are the benefits of using compost?

  • Increases organic matter in the soil.
  • Higher yields - studies show that you can improve maximum yield potential by increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil.
  • Inorganic fertiliser substitution - compost contains slow release, crop-available nutrients, including phosphate, potash, magnesium and sulphur.
  • Improves soil structure for better workability and better crop establishment
  • Better soil structure and water management - adding compost improves soil structure, which is good for crops (good water infiltration and retention) and also makes it easier to work, saving fuel and time.
  • Increases water infiltration and retention.
  • Inhibiting pests and diseases - the organic action of compost can help to inhibit pests and diseases within the soil.
  • Fuel savings and traffic tolerance - compost improves soil structure, making it more easy to work whilst using less fuel. Improving soil structure will make it more resistant to compaction from traffic and will extend the conditions in which it can be worked.

Understanding the financial benefits

WRAP has supported the use of compost in a number of trials, and we have been monitoring the associated costs.  

The main factor influencing cost is the distance from compost supplier to your field.  The financial gains are greatest where the distance is short and compost can be collected using your own spreader, thereby reducing double-handling.  

We found that the total cost, including purchase price, haulage and spreading can vary significantly between suppliers.  The amount charged for different elements of the service will also vary.  

Of the total cost, the purchase price made up 20-33%, haulage between 25-70% and spreading 20-45% - further highlighting the benefits of farming near a compost producer.  

As fertiliser prices rise, the benefits of using compost become even more clear.