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Producing Excellence

Mark Inness

Center, CO

Compost Technologies

Products: Compost

Size of Operation: 30,000 tons annually

In Business Since: 2003

Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit of Southern Colorado

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2003

Better soil makes better crops, and for centuries farmers have used manure from their animals to nourish their crop ground. Entrepreneur Mark Inness has taken that a step further, co-founding a company that now composts 30,000 tons of cow manure each year at two facilities in Colorado.

Prior to ten years ago, Mark was managing a farming operation that had both conventional and organic ground. Following the adage that “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” Mark started learning about composting so he could correctly fertilize the organic ground. After a few years, he saw that the organic ground grew a good or even better crop. “That told me we’re doing something right keeping the soil healthy by adding compost instead of using commercial inputs,” Mark says. Then the opportunity came along to get into compost commercially, and he’s run with it ever since.

Mark sources most of his manure from a large Colorado feedlot 200 miles away from his main facility, and supplements that with smaller loads from local ranchers. Increased demand for his products along with the fuel and labor costs involved in freighting that large amount of manure led him in 2012 to build a second composting facility, financed by Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, at the feedlot location.

Turning manure into compost is an 8 – 12 week process that starts with mixing the manure with a compost mix that includes carbon sources, such as straw or sawdust. Getting the correct ratio of carbon and nitrogen in the compost is one of the most important determinations of the quality of the final product, and one on which Mark directs a lot of his focus. The mixture is then spread into windrows and is turned regularly with special tractor-drawn machinery – every day at first – to allow airborne microbes to start breaking down the mixture into the final compost products. These products include both solid and liquid compost fertilizers. The piles also have to be monitored for moisture levels, with water added as needed. “It’s important that the compost be high quality,” Mark says. “Most people will turn manure a few times and call it compost, but to do it right takes a lot of time and a lot of labor.”

Interestingly, the composting process cleans the material, killing weed seeds and pathogens, which is why it can be spread much closer to harvest than straight manure is allowed to be. The process also produces an organic source of fertilizer, even if the cows who generated the manure are not eating an organic diet. Regardless of whether his compost is spread on a conventional or organic farm, Mark looks forward to continuing to provide a quality product that helps improve crop soil, and “helping farmers grow healthier food for us all.”

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