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WSU compost facility earns organic registration from Washington Dept. of Agriculture

Jaeckel, holding a shovel, and Finch, behind him, kneel along a bed of lettuce in a hoophouse.
Brad Jaeckel, manager of the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm, and Rick Finch, manager of WSU Facilities Operations Waste Management, inspect young produce being grown for the first time with WSU organic compost this fall (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo).

To help local organic farms grow food more economically and sustainably, compost from Washington State University’s Compost Facility is now registered as organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Responding to a need for organic compost at the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm and other Palouse-area farms, the WSU Compost Facility passed the registration process this year.

Compost helps build long-term fertility of soil and stabilize it to resist erosion, reducing the need for expensive or bulky fertilizers, explained Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

“A local source of organic registered compost can really help improve yields for local organic food production, improve sustainable nutrient cycling through the WSU community, and support long-term soil health,” she said.

A detailed process 

WSDA’s Organic Program keeps a registry of materials allowed in organic crop production. By following that list, farmers know they are following National Organic Program rules. WSDA registration examines every ingredient and process that goes into compost, ensuring it meets organic requirements.

To pass the process, Richard Finch, manager of WSU Facilities Operations Waste Management, documented the source and amount of every feedstock used to make WSU organic compost.

Finch, on one knee with shovel, holds a handful of compost at an outdoor pile.
Rick Finch crumbles WSU organic compost at the university’s organic farm, which is using WSDA-certified organic compost from the WSU Compost Facility for the first time this fall (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo).

“We had to make sure that unacceptable materials like treated wood or plastics, which sometimes show up as contaminants at the compost yard, would not make their way into the organic recipe,” said Carpenter-Boggs.

“We also had to meet requirements for sufficient time at hot temperatures to kill pathogens, and had to show that the finished compost had low pathogens and metals.”

Emily Barber, a 2017 graduate of the Organic Agriculture program, began the organic registration process as part of an undergraduate internship.

Black compost tumbles off an inclined yellow conveyor into a dark pile. A shed and hill stand in the background.
Material at the WSU Compost Facility is sorted by size using automated machinery. Some ingredients in organic compost are separated to ensure it meets WSDA requirements (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo).

Transforming tons of waste

In 1994, WSU was the first university in the nation to build a commercial-scale composting facility. Located on the southeast corner of campus, the facility composts more than 10,000 tons of waste every year.

About half of compostable waste comes from animal bedding and yard waste, while about 1 percent is food waste. Dining Services generates 227 tons of compost per year.

Besides now serving organic farms, WSU compost is used in campus greenhouses, on research farms and for campus landscaping.

  • Learn more about WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm here.
  • Learn more about WSU Facilities Services here.