Stanford University
A man and a women working on a compost pile

Credit: Stacy Geiken

Student experiments for a better way to compost

BY Annie Shattuck
ClockOctober 14, 2015

Johnny Caspers was on the farm full time this summer, up to his elbows in manure. As part of his Earth Systems’ degree, Caspers (Class of 2016) is researching efficient and affordable composting methods for campus waste streams. Using manure from Stanford’s historic Red Barn and food scraps from the dining halls, Caspers tested a two-stage hot and vermicomposting process to create high quality soil conditioners for fields and orchards.

While horse manure has been used as a fertilizer for centuries, there is wide variability between equestrian facilities in their bedding, feed, and veterinary practices.

Some horse manure is contains pharmaceuticals and has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio – limiting its agricultural use. If Caspers’s research pays-off, it could lower the cost of waste disposal, reduce the need for purchased compost on the farm, and by increasing soil organic matter on the farm, reduce the farm’s water use as well.

“I sought to work with compost this summer because the idea of reusing what is consumed and not letting things go to waste is something that isn’t extremely prevalent in today’s society. In my opinion, the reintroduction of compost on a wide scale, though challenging, would solve a lot of the issues that are prevalent today with nutrient cycling.”

With the potential for new funding and incentives for composting through the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Initiative, Caspers’ work could not be more timely.

The process of student directed research is an essential part of the Stanford Educational Farm experience. For Johnny, “Student research is important because it allows undergrads to find problems they see around them and develop ways to overcome these issues. The importance of this development as problem solvers cannot be harped on enough.”

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