[Compostteas] Re: Organic Farming and Compost Teas

Kirk Leonard kirk at oregonatural.com
Sun Oct 13 17:13:29 EDT 2002

Well, there we have it folks, the most official statement I've seen of no
organically legitimate use of compost tea, for foodstuffs, now.  Brinton was
on the NOSB Compost Task Force and is being disingenuous claiming an effort
"to save compost tea."  The good doctor had to know the major flaws of the
only research presented, that it wasn't done with real compost, that it had
significant ecoli in it, and that molasses could enhance ecoli content by
creating anaerobic conditions.  I think he knew all that and sat on it.

Took us a month on this listserve to understand and get a fix on the
molasses issue, as I recall.  But the whole thing was a setup, clearly:  Use
surprise, bogus research to get an appropriate reaction from people who know
about compost tea, conclude there wasn't enough research, yank the bogus
recommendation and make compost tea ineligible for crop production because
there is a danger of pathogens in it and more research is needed.  Somehow
the original smear sticks even though it was bogus.  Very clever ruse and
manipulation, dastardly but skilled, clear in retrospect.

If the NOP staff at USDA were really interested in assembling "evidence that
shows the proper and safe use of compost teas" the NOP would encourage
compost tea, not relegate it to "we need more information" status, and make
it uncertifiable.  That the NOP now asserts that compost tea is "not
eligible to satisfy" the soil fertility section, which is where compost
sits, is absurd.  If you make either aerobic or nutrient tea from approved
compost, what could possibly be the problem?

Because Dr Brinton sent a pre-six-month old version of the Compost Task
Force 4/11/02 recommendation instead of the 8/9/02 USDA-translated one,
which appears headed for adoption unless we head it off at the pass (by
10/21), here is the most recent official stuff, for the record:

> Compost Task Force - Final Report - 8/9/02

NOTE: This is a recommendation by a task force of the National Organic
Standards Board. This final report provides guidance to producers and
certifying agents. As guidance, this report does not constitute a Federal
regulation and is subject to change as needed by USDA pending new
information and/or
comments received from interested parties.  [Therein lies our last-minute
folks...speak up, please.]

Producers of any agricultural commodity or product certified as organic
under the National Organic Program (NOP) must meet the fundamental
requirements for processing and applying plant and animal materials for soil
fertility and
crop nutrient management practices as described in Section 205.203(c) of the
final regulations. This section states:

The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve
soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to
contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic
organisms, heavy
metals, or residues of prohibited substances.

Examples of plant and animal materials are described in 205.203 (c) 1-5.
This policy statement is being distributed to denote other materials that
would be acceptable under 205.203 (c) (2) which applies to plant and animal
mixes. There are no specific regulations for composting when feedstock is
made up of only plant material.

1. Compost, in addition to that described in section 205.203 (c) (2), is
acceptable if (i) made from only allowed feedstock materials, except for
incidental residues that will not lead to contamination, (ii) the compost
undergoes an
increase in temperature to at least 131° F (55°C) and remains there for a
minimum of 3
days, and (iii) the compost pile is mixed or managed to ensure that all of
the feedstock heats to the minimum temperature.

The monitoring of the above 3 parameters must be documented in the Organic
System Plan (plan) submitted by the producer and verified during the site

An explanation of compliance with section 205.203 (c) should also be
presented in the plan.

2. Vermicompost is acceptable if (i) made from only allowed feedstock
materials, except for incidental residues that will not lead to
contamination, (ii) aerobicity is maintained by regular additions of thin
layers of organic
matter at 1-3 day intervals, (iii) moisture is maintained at 70-90%, and
(iv) duration of
vermicomposting is at least 12 months for outdoor windrows, 4 months for
indoor container systems, 4 months for angled wedge systems, or 60 days for
continuous flow reactors.

3. Compost and vermicompost teas are still under review and are, therefore,
not eligible to satisfy section 205.203 (c) at this time.  [!!!]

4. Processed manure materials must be made from manure that has been heated
to a temperature in excess of 150° F (65°C) for one hour or more and dried
to a moisture level of 12% or less, or an equivalent heating and drying
that produces a product that is negative for pathogenic contamination by
salmonella and fecal coliform material. <

There you see #3, the direct cabash on compost tea, which you might not have
able to print with the USDA pdf file, per my experience.  And you see #4,
which I find dubious.  Where is the research that shows this "processed
manure" stuff is safe, or beneficial?

NEXT SEVEN DAYS, please suggest to them that similar, appropriate tests for
compost tea as those for processed manures ought to make it OK under the
NOP, too... Seems a way to fix this, if a pain in the butt.  It is stupid
and ridiculous that compost tea wouldn't be certifiably organic.  Steeped,
nutrient compost teas have been used safely and beneficially for millenia.
Millenia!  Well before Howard, Rodale, Steiner, et al.  The Chinese before
central planning used to do this stuff, as have all Asians.  Aerobic teas
are simply the next practical and most promising step, thank you Ingham.

The NOP won't stop compost tea, no matter what.  We all know that.  The
current NOP-CT status will make a serious dent in progress, though.  Dow and
Monsanto will make much of this ruling, believe me.  They can't win but they
can make our lives miserable in the meantime and delay development

Please get your congressional representatives into NOP offices.  Tell them
to find Richard Mathews, NOP Manager - Richard.Mathews at usda.gov, Barbara
Robinson, AMS Administrator - Barbara.Robinson.AMS at usda.gov, or Bob Pooler,
NOP staff - Bob.Pooler at usda.gov, and get them to support compost tea as an
organic method and material that is approved without restrictions.  Short of
no restrictions, compost tea should certainly be approved with appropriate
tests.  There is no excuse for disallowing compost tea as an organic

-- Kirk

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