IMPORTANCE OF COMPOSTING IN AGRICULTURAL FARMING

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Dec 17 - 30, 2007

In the back-drop of green revolution and increase in population, exhaustive and excessive cultivation have caused shortage of organic matter and nutrients in our soils.

The use of chemical fertilizers was increased from 18.9 million tons in 1990-91 to 29.8 million tons in 2005-06 while the crop area was increased during this period from 21 million hectares to 23 million hectares. Fertilizer requirements have partially been met from domestic production and partly from imports by spending fabulous amount of foreign exchange worth billion of rupees.

The effect of the increase in fertilizers off-take has not been favorable as the productivity of the land is deteriorating and yield per acre is declining. Excessive use of DAP has deteriorated the under soil of our farm land, increasing compaction and creating hard core, besides enhancing the level of acidity of our cultivated lands. The efficiency of fertilizers does not synchronize with the high consumption and shortage and loss of macro and micro nutrients, because of leaching, de-nitrification and immobilization. This has also caused immense soil, water and air pollution.

Agricultural scientists have been exploring new easy, safe and economic techniques and technologies to augment the fertility of the land, increase its productivity without affecting the ecological environmental safety by replenishing the organic matter and adding necessary nutrients in the soil. At last they devised the technology of composting, which is natural, easy and economical to prepare and apply.

Crop residues, farm and household wastes are converted into valuable compost, which otherwise remained unutilized and allowed to add to environmental pollution. Millions of tons of food wastes, crop residues and cow dung are buried or burnt each year at considerable financial and environmental cost, which can be recycled as a useful resource (natural fertilizer) for our lands with the help of worms. Thus the materials, which were destroyed in the past for centuries as a waste, are used beneficially.

Most of the materials, which we commonly and ordinarily think are wastes, are used as ingredients for compositing. These may include vegetable peels, fruit peels, chopped hay, straws, husk, wood chips, grass clippings, weeds and other garden crops, leaves, cattle manure, ashes, saw dust, shredded paper etc. A caution needs to be taken that there should be no bones, meat scraps, oils or fat in these ingredients otherwise they may attract pests, cats, rats and birds, which would spoil the process and the product.

A number of non-traditional organic manures are now available generally known as soil and plant additives. Among the sources of organic manures, vermin-compost is found to be one of the best alternatives, possessing the potentials to maintain and sustain soil fertility and productivity as well as health of the soil, farmers and yield. The method of preparing vermin-compost involves earth worms as the most important input. These worms generally live in the soil, eat biomass and release it as excrete. This is popularly called vermin-compost. The compost management by using earth worms is very fast, effective and useful. (It may take 45-60 days). It is of superior quality. As a major part all available cow/animal dung is used as fuel in our rural areas, however, the importance of vermin-compost in our farm-yard management is all the more there.

HOW TO PREPARE VERMIN-COMPOST:

Vermi-compost means artificially rearing or cultivating of worms (earth worms) and the technology is the organic process of using them for the betterment of human beings. Vermi-compost is the excrete of earth-worms, which is rich in humus. Humus is the ultimate goal when we start composting, providing the right environment for the organisms in the compost pile. It replicates nature's system of breaking down materials, which is the natural process on the forest floor. Earth worms eat animal dung or farm-yard manure along with other farm wastes and pass it through their bodies and in the process convert it into vermi-compost.

MULTIPLICATION OF WORMS AT LARGE SCALE

Earth worms at the rate of 50 Nos. per 10 kg should be released in the mixture of cow dung, dry grass, leaves, husk, vegetable peels, fruit peels etc. and it should be kept in shade. Water should be sprinkled every day from time to time to maintain reasonable level of moisture. By this process earth worms multiply 300 times within one to two months. These earth worms can be used to prepare vermin-compost.

ADVANTAGES OF VERMIN-COMPOST:

- Vermi-compost is eco-friendly natural fertilizer prepared from bio-degradable organic wastes and is free from chemical inputs.

- Vermi-compost does not have any adverse effects on soil and plants and is environment friendly, unlike chemical fertilizers.

- Vermi-compost improves the soil aeration, textures and tilth, thereby reducing soil compaction and creation of hard core.

- It improves water retention capacity of the soil because of high organic matter contained therein.

- It promotes better root growth and nutrients absorption by bringing about suitable permeability and porosity in the soil.

- It improves nutrients status of soil both in macro nutrients and micro nutrients.

- Vermi-compost preparation reduces household garbage disposal costs.

- It produces less odor and attracts fewer pests than putting food wastes into garbage container.

- It produces almost free of cost high quality soil compost.

- It requires little labor or maintenance.

- It ensures availability of essential nutrients in soluble form in the required amount/quantity.

- Having considerable water holding capacity, it helps to retain water regime of the soil in both excess and shortage conditions.

- The presence of potential organisms like Azobacter, Rhizobium, Phosphorus Solubalizing bacterial (PSB), Nitrobacter is useful in improving the otherwise deteriorating soil health.

- Metabolic activities of microbes result in the release of plant growth regulating hormones, thereby enhancing the plant growth.

- It is a cheap and good quality of organic fertilizer, which can be used in place of chemical fertilizers.

- Due to its granular form, it can be used easily at any stage of the crop.

- Vermi-compost is 65-75 percent of the waste material used in its preparation.

The composition of the vermi-compost is dependent on the quality of waste material used. The concentration of nutrients in vermi-compost is higher than FYM, owing to reduction in compost recovery from the total material, the grading and enzymatic activity of earth worms and degradation of worms' bodies. Vermi-compost can further be enriched by addition of micro-nutrients, bacteria etc.

Compost especially vermi-compost is suitable for all kinds of crops including cereals, vegetables, oil seeds, orchards and flower gardens. About 15-20 carts per acre in irrigated and 5-10 carts per acre in rain areas may be sufficient. It is recommended that farmers should collect animal dung, straw, vegetable wastes, leaves of trees, remains of the old crops, stalks, husk etc. for compost preparation. Use of compost will cut down the artificial fertilizers. It may be worth-mentioning that 100 kg compost contains 1.34 kg nitrogen, 1.3 kg phosphorus, 1.04 kg potash and 0.89 of calcium respectively. Therefore, farmers should give due importance to benefit from the application of compost.

Our farmers need awareness about the preparation, application of compost, especially vermi-compost and its benefits to the soil, crop production/yield, farmer's purse and safety of the environments. That can be done easily and effectively by Agriculture Extension services. However, the extension workers must first of all be trained based on the results of agriculture research so that they could impart necessary knowledge to the farmers to practice it in the field and farms.