Turning the Brown Gold to Yellow Gold

Rodale Institute

Type: Case Study
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Farm Table says:

Non-organic corn grower in the US got increases in yield through the composting process.


What is the problem?

Compost or “brown gold” has been providing nutrient amendments small-scale agriculture. Howbeit, its advantages are still unacknowledged by some growers. One example is Dan Hunsicker’s case study which is discussed in this paper. This entailed how his cropping system has changed after the favorable results of a research study using compost treatments were presented to him.

What did the research involve?

  1. Dan Hunsicker, a non-organic corn grower in Berks County, Pennsylvania, grows corn in a no-till system and inorganic amendments. To gather information about developing his cropping system, he attended a Rodale Institute’s annual on-farm field day where he learned that high-quality compost improves soil health and plant yield
  2.  In 2013, Rodale Institute scientists and Hunsicker collaborated on investigating its verification. The company used his land for the research, then he prepared his land by planting corn before the researchers applied a 1 ton per acre high-quality compost after 3 weeks
  3. The soil was seasonally analyzed for physical and chemical properties. During harvest, the plant and grain were sampled from 20-foot long strips in two adjacent middle cornrows

What were the key findings?

  • Lowered soil bulk density reduces compaction induces increased soil organic matter that promotes healthy soil as it enhances the soil biological activity, chemical reactions, and soil physical structure
  • This advantage is achieved after one cropping season. Hunsicker discovered that the combination of compost and compost extract treatment provided amendments to his composting process because it resulted in a soil bulk density of 87 lb/ft3 or 1.39 g/m3 with 3.41% organic matter compared to his inorganic standard practice that had 90.5lb/ft3 or 1.45 g/m3 with 3.07% organic matter
  • Another favorable result from the application of the treatments is the increase of the corn grain yield by 10bu/acre. However, the treatments did not increase the plant biomass
  • Hunsicker sells his self-termed “yellow gold” or corn to the pet industry that needs high-quality corn for a premium price of $5.50 bushel. This can be attained if $45.00 per acre in revenue or an annual amount of $165,000 are added to his 3,000-acre operation

Final comment

After being gratified with the results, Hunsicker is currently trailing the use of high-quality organic compost for a healthy soil and abundant, sound corn. Moreover, he is presently related to applying compost extract in his sprayer during the growing season to boost corn production.

2015 - United States - Rodale Institute
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