Woods End Laboratories

Healthy Soil

Healthy Science

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Compost Quality Validation

Compost – an open system. Compost quality is a challenging term in view of the fact that compost, unlike soil, is rarely if ever stable. Unlike soils, compost may change in the course of a day where soils do so only over a season. Therefore, testing compost must take a fundamentally different approach, catching the “process” and the “product” at the same time.

Experience and Research Foundation: Woods End Labs has operated an active compost research unit alongside its soil testing lab since the 1980’s.  In this time we have mapped out many of the forces and factors that influence compost change. Unlike soil science, composting lacks a bona fide academic and scientific tradition and is therefore highly vulnerable to industry and consultant manipulation.

Gov’t & Industry Input: Government regulatory bodies and private trade associations have played a significant role in politically promoting composting. However, from a broader perspective they have exercised a debilitating effect on the science and innovation of composting.  Chemists and biologists observing the field from the outside have remarked that in fact what is being described in the rules and standard tests are not compost products but only the terms industry has promoted to protect itself.  Some of this has resulted from the unfortunate polemics of industry vs. sludge-concern groups which have also exercised influence in the organic farming movement. The modern form of commercialized regulatory science that has come about in the composting arena needs constant market corrections if it is to stand on its own. This is not unusual in young  industries, and is a source of continued vulnerability and sudden change.

The Science of Composting: The science of composting is a dynamic and growing field.  It actually grew out of a once-farmer based movement in the early 20th century to properly manage and return nutrients to the farm. As a biological process composting was seen as open ended, with a multiple of overlapping biological processes governing its direction.  It was and still is fertile ground for discovery and invites combined academic disciplines from chemistry to microbiology.

A Path through the Maze: Working with these challenges, Woods End Labs has employed principles of holistic resource management to examine and report on the complexity of compost systems. Systems express themselves variously as types, and these can be  successfully matched to specific attributes desired by horticulture and farming. This enables an extremely practical interpretive structure to be established.  Woods End has developed a mathematical-scientific model to expose the types in its compost quality validation process.

Open Source to Innovation: The combination of this “open-source” framework for testing and broad experience in the practice of actual composting means that Woods End 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 Woods End move rapidly forward in improving cost-effectiveness of the process and ecological tailoring for markets.

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