Nebraska Feedlot Composting Project

In-depth interviews with feedlot owners, municipality representatives, composters, and farmers, were conducted to gauge interest in, and the feasibility of partnering together for the manufacture and land application of compost. As part of the proposed project, feedlots and municipalities would supply composters with manure and yard waste. Composters would then market the end product (compost) to area farmers to use as a soil amendment on their cropland.


Advantages of Using Compost on field crops:

1)      Soil improvement – compost can improve infiltration rate and water-holding capacity; it increases the population and diversity of the soil microbial community

2)      Nutrients – compost provides nitrogen, phosphorus and trace elements; slow release over multiple years

3)      Adds humus – humus increases soil organic matter content


Interview questions were specific to stakeholder groups and designed to collect information on (1) current practices and challenges, (2) interest in participating in the described project, and (3) perceived barriers and benefits to participation. Read the Community Based Social Marketing study and the full project description.

Photo credits: Middle Niobrara NRD

This Composting Project checklist is designed to help prepare you for the creation of your unique composting project online. 

Compost provides nitrogen to crops for three or more years, based on the mineralization rate of the soil. Mineralization rate can depend on several factors but this Plant Available Nitrogen spreadsheet gives a basis for the nitrogen that will be available to crops for three years, based on specific characteristics of the compost. Download a copy of this spreadsheet for use in your specific situation.

A user-friendly, web-based financial modeling tool was developed as part of this project. The tool can be used to input data on key variables associated with starting a composting business utilizing municipal and feedlot organic waste streams, or default values can be used to obtain initial estimates. Access the tool and list of variables that may be input 

NRC hosted a Nebraska Feedlot Composting Project webinar on Thursday, June 23, 2022, where stakeholders could obtain information gained through this research and the web-based financial feasibility calculator tool was demonstrated. 

Erosion of soil leads to poor water quality downstream as phosphorus fertilizers and nitrates from synthetic fertilizers cling to soil particles and wash into streams and waterways. These nutrients can cause eutrophication and hypoxia.  Amending the soil with compost creates a controlled, slow release of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients. To the extent that compost is used to replace synthetic fertilizer, it will reduce Phosphorus and nitrate runoff. Compost also minimizes soil erosion and runoff.
(Cover crops are also used as an alternate source of nitrogen and release the nutrient slowly throughout the growing season.)
Compost creation is an aerobic process, producing CO2 emissions but not methane. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.  Compost reduces greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) when the materials used in compost would have been processed anaerobically. Manure lagoons and landfills are anaerobic, so to compost these materials instead of putting them in a landfill or a lagoon, is a net benefit and reduction in greenhouse gases.

Photo credit: Bio Ag Solutions

Two case studies showing successful public-private partnerships utilizing yard, wood and animal waste:

BioAg Solutions case study

Middle Niobrara NRD case study

A word about compost: Many people incorrectly call all sorts of raw organic waste (like mulch or manure) compost. Compost can be made from anything that was once alive, but it is not the “raw” material itself. Unlike mulch or dried manure, compost is the final product of a managed thermophilic process through which microorganisms break down organic materials into forms suitable for beneficial application to the soil. A well-managed composting process has plenty of oxygen, goes through a high-heat phase that accelerates the natural biodegradation of organic materials and produces a stable form of organic matter that is made up of carbon and nitrogen, contains other important nutrients, and is free of weed seeds and harmful pathogens. For environmental and agronomic reasons, it is important to note that the type of nitrogen found in compost (organic N) is not the same as the nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers (inorganic N). The Plant Available Nitrogen (PAN) from compost can be calculated based on the mineralization rate of the soil.

This research was funded through a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. For more information on this project, contact the Nebraska Recycling Council at 402-436-2384 or [email protected].


blue and white Nebraska Environmental Trust seal with a bird in the middle of the circle