Recapping the 2017 MNCC Yard Waste Compost School

Just as they have since 1995, on August 16 the Minnesota Composting Council held their summer "school" workshop as composters and industry professionals gathered to learn, share best practices, and network in Minneapolis for the 2017 MNCC Yard Waste Compost School.

Per MNCC's website, The MN Composting Council is dedicated to the development, expansion, and promotion of the composting industry based upon sound science, principles of sustainability, and economic viability. The organization will achieve its mission by:

  • Encouraging and guiding research
  • Promoting best management practices
  • Establishing standards
  • Educating professionals and the public, and
  • Enhancing product quality and markets.

Its members envision that composters, generators of organic residues, policy-makers, regulators, professionals, and consumers will pursue this mission.

The day's agenda covered a wide range of topics relevant to composters and their industry. Dr. Tom Halbach from the University of Minnesota kicked things off with a session on the history, definitions, composting basics, and concepts to remember before Tim Farnan of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) spoke about Minnesota rules and regulations applicable to compost facilities.

Key takeaways from these two sessions include:

  • Composting's roots have been traced as far back as ancient China some 7,000 years ago
  • If the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio in compost is too high, the process will be slowed down depending on the ratio's severity
  • Turning your compost pile too often can have adverse affects with 3-7 turns per year being the suggested amount
  • Depending on the size of your pile, you may not need to file for a permit in the state of Minnesota
  • As of 2013, composted yard waste counts toward Minnesota county recycling rates

The next sessions included Susie Darley-Hill from the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, Kayla Walsh from MPCA, and Katy Mutschler and Monika Chandler from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Highlights include:

  • Education (constant communication, labels, tools, visits from employees, staff training, videos, social media, etc.) and quick response are vital in controlling contamination
  • Proper mixing is vital as odor, slow composting rate, low temperatures, and having to rebuild piles are all unwanted consequences of poor planning
  • A guide to developing the right compost recipe using the Cornell Calculator spreadsheet and the Green Mountain Technologies calculator tool
  • Minnesota has 15 quarantined areas due to the emerald ash borer attack on ash trees in the state, primarily in the metro area
  • Controlling weed spread, such as poisonous hemlock, is vital and especially when it comes to machinery which can easily spread seeds across large areas if not properly cleaned

Up next were Brad Kiecker from Komptech to talk safety equipment and Ginny Black and Kellie Kish to discuss odor management and monitoring and testing, respectively.

Takeaways were:

  • One can never be too safe and we should always be asking ourselves, "What will you do to contribute to a safer workplace?"
  • Most bad odors come from anaerobic conditions
  • The state of Minnesota doesn't have odor regulations though odor is the second most common reason why compost facilities close (after economic struggles)
  • Six odors represent 80 percent of the odors found at compost sites
  • Carver County has been testing rain water simulations over compost piles for years and is currently in phase 3 of a study which started in 2016

The afternoon concluded with a round table, a session from Peter Kern of Kern Landscape Resources (KLR) on the background of KLR and the use of compost, and a questions and review session discussing where we need to go next in the state of Minnesota. Overall the attendance and participation in the discussions was exemplary and rife with constructive feedback and sharing of ideas which is sure to be a benefit to MNCC and all those involved in composting in the state.

To learn more about the Minnesota Composting Council, please visit their website and stay tuned for future events.

the Minnesota Composting Council held their summer "school" workshop as composters and industry professionals gathered to learn, share best practices, and network in Minneapolis for the 2017 MNCC Yard Waste Compost School.

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