What’s in a Term? Compost Quality is a nebulous term and means different things to different observers. In the large sense, it is the appropriateness of synchronous events during intentional biological degradation. Quality describes the balance and favorable arrangements of nutrients and organic factors coming together to make a soil beneficial product. Anti-quality therefore implies traits and processes that contribute to a new problem and are not a solution.
Years of Research: Will Brinton has operated an active compost research unit since the 1980’s, and in this time has mapped out many of the forces and factors in nature that result in excellent composts. An equally significant effort has gone into describing “stuck” processes and unsuccessful outcomes. This objectivity has yielded insights into proper analysis to describe its process and end-quality, and to avoid problems. As a scientific discipline the field continues to evolve.
Gov’t & Industry Input: Government regulatory bodies and private trade associations have played a role in politically promoting composting, yet from a broad perspective have had a debilitating effect on the science of composting. A standstill has resulted from prematurely formulating over-simplified rules (example: the EPA concept of “PFRP” which obscures hygiene quality of composts), or the minimized test standard (example: USCC’s “STA” program, which can under-characterize compost quality). Chemists and biologists observing the field from the outside have remarked that in fact what is being described in the rules and tests are not composts but only predefined terms (“if you do not know composts are involved you will not discover it”). On scrutiny, this kind of commercialized regulatory science is unable to stand on its own. This is not unusual in young industries, and is a source of continued vulnerability.
The Science of Composting: In contrast, the active science of composting is a hugely dynamic and growing field. Yet, unlike soil science, compost science does not have a precedent of prior academic work and extension to rely upon. As a biological process composting is open ended, there is no specific governing law of nature that directs it, for it epitomizes “biological drift”. It is fertile ground for discovery and invites combined disciplines as in soil and microbiology.
A Path through the Maze: Working with this dilemma, Will Brinton has been able to discern using general system theory that certain complex groupings of compost attributes are recurrent and thereby fulfill the criteria of a whole, functioning system. System express themselves variously as types, and these can be successfully matched to specific and desired end-uses in horticulture and farming. This enables an extremely practical interpretive structure to be established. A mathematical model developed by Woods End is used to expose the types and is constantly updated so it “evolves” and is enriched with newer observations.
Open Source to Innovation: The combination of this “open-source” framework for testing and broad experience in the practice of actual composting means that Will Brinton’s lab is able to routinely offer innovation and breakthrough analysis. These tests can be framed in a fashion that readily fits the public and regulatory expectations for simplicity. The result is that clients of Will Brinton’s lab move rapidly forward in improving cost-effectiveness of the process and ecological tailoring for markets.