An Assessment of Manure-based Compost Markets in Michigan


March 15, 2021 - <> Gould, and Ramjee Ghimire, MSU Department of Animal Science

The goal of this study was to generate a report that farmers can use to make informed decisions about making compost from manure and other agricultural byproducts to increase farm income by selling compost to consumers. The study and report update a similar effort that was conducted in 2005.

In this descriptive study, researchers surveyed Michigan equine operation owners, farmers, landscapers, and nursery and greenhouse operators. The surveys differed across industries. For example, farm, landscape, and greenhouse and nursery respondents were asked questions related to their operations, preferred compost specifications, compost manufacturing and use, and demographics. Owners of equine operations were asked about their businesses, bedding and manure management preferences, and demographics.

The survey instruments included Likert-type, dichotomous, multiple answer, and open-ended questions.


The analysis of the survey data show that while farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators are familiar with compost, many are strongly reluctant to use it because they don’t see its value.

When asked what compost specification was considered most important, landscapers and greenhouse and nursery operators indicated “consistent product quality” while farmers indicated “cost/quality relationship.” “Cost/quality relationship” and “consistent product quality” were also the most important compost specification identified by farmers and landscapers, respectively, in the 2005 compost marketing study (Gould, 2005). In the 2005 study, “consistent product quality” was ranked the second most important specification behind “nutrient availability” for greenhouse and nursery operators.

When farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators were asked in 2005 and 2019 whether they intended to increase compost use, the majority said no. The consistency of this response is significant because it shows that efforts to educate these audiences about producing and using compost over the past 14 years have been largely ineffective. Attitudes and perceptions toward compost across the three sectors have not changed.

The study did uncover opportunities to change the perceived value of compost. Farmers and landscape operators indicated they would be willing to use compost that has proven and demonstrated ability to improve soil health. Farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators indicated they would consider using compost if its economic value could be clearly demonstrated to them. Landscapers expressed interest in composting waste materials generated in their own operations. These three opportunities provide a clear roadmap for increasing compost manufacturing and use in the state.

Farmers and greenhouse and nursery operators said they were willing to pay up to $25 per cubic yard while landscape operators were willing to pay between $26 and $50 per cubic yard for compost with a proven and demonstrated ability to improve soil health. Price lists obtained in April 2020 from 29 municipal and commercial composting operations on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy registered composting facilities list found the price for bulk compost ranged from $6 to $34.50 per cubic yard. These prices all fall within the range farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators indicated they would be willing to pay for compost. This suggests that the use of compost could increase if quality standards could be met at a competitive price.

Equine operations are generally considered good sources of carbon for compost production. (Wood shavings and sawdust make up 60% of the bedding used in equine operations.) Transporting carbon-laden horse manure to composting sites is a challenge, however. Equine owners were asked how likely they would be to use one of four manure management service options. Of those options, 42% of operators indicated they would most likely choose to have someone come to their operation and pick up a supplied container on a regular schedule or as needed. Equine operators said they would pay $92.50 a month for this service, the greatest value they placed on any of the manure management options offered. This combination of factors suggests that compost producers might want to consider placing containers at equine operations to collect manure and spent bedding.

Cost of compost production figures from four farming operations – one organic vegetable farm, one beef operation and two dairy farms – ranged from $19.39 to $34.46 per cubic yard. Given these cost of production figures and landscape firms and nurseries willingness to pay $25 to $50 per cubic yard for proven compost, it appears that the use of compost could increase. Farmers appear unlikely to use more compost they have to buy; however, they may be willing to use more compost they produce from their own farm operations.

The value of nutrients in compost could match that of some fertilizers and soil conditioners at a lower price. Furthermore, the cost of land application for a composted product may be lower and more environmentally sustainable than the direct application of manure, especially during the winter months.


The following recommendations and action items can be used to develop a plan with short- and long-range goals to increase compost use in the agricultural, landscape, and greenhouse and nursery sectors.


Action Item

Increase consumer confidence in compost’s performance as a soil amendment.

·   Adopt a standard set of compost specifications that enable compost manufacturers to make compost with a proven ability to consistently improve soil health.

·   Secure funding for basic and applied research projects to prove the relationship between the cost and quality of compost and soil health.

·   Conduct basic education with and for farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators to increase their understanding of how to use compost to improve soil health.

·   Teach farmers, landscapers, and greenhouse and nursery operators how to manufacture compost that meets their soil improvement needs.

Increase investment in composting facilities.

·   Facilitate communication of potential compost users and producers with officials from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Michigan State University, and other stakeholders about possible changes to Part 115: Solid Waste Management of Public Act 451 of 1994. EGLE has proposed legislative changes that would impose registration, oversight, permitting costs, and inspection requirements on commercial compost sellers. Farmers are reluctant to invest in developing commercial compost operations until their concerns about the pending legislation are addressed.

·   Ensure effective implementation of state policy so that yard waste, food waste, and other organic feedstocks end up in composting sites, anaerobic digesters, animal feed, and other suitable places rather than in landfills.

·   Work with compost manufacturers to develop compost delivery options to agricultural, landscaping, and greenhouse and nursery operations.

·   Study the feasibility of using containers to haul manure from equine operations to central composting sites.

·   Explore the feasibility of forming one or more cooperative ventures to produce compost.



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