Is Compost with Cow Manure Really Organic?


May 13, 2016

Since most people’s dairy foods today come in cartons from the supermarket, and their compost with cow manure diligently worked into flower beds and organic food gardens is also conveniently purchased off the shelf in clean plastic bags. Pretty handy, but do you have any idea what is really in that bag? Sure, you say, it rich compost and it’s got a little manure in it. Certainly wouldn’t want too much manure, you need the humus from other composted materials to keep soil in good shape and it’s moisture-holding qualities. But where does the humus come from? And why are some brands labeled LANDSCAPE GRADE, and others aren’t?

Landscaper's Grade Organic Compost with Manure?I’ve always tried to avoid buying this landscape or landscaper’s grade, suspecting that it was probably not good for growing food. Then why would it be labeled ORGANIC? Puzzling. There’s a bag in the garage that got hauled home by accident and never returned. I noticed that the nutrient analysis is much lower than the regular organic compost with cow manure. There are no ingredients listed on the bag other than that the nutrient content is derived from composted cow manure. Was a bit concerned when I noticed that the product name is actually Organic Compost With Manure. Note that the cow manure isn’t stated as organic, which made me wonder what the other kind I have says in the label’s fine print.

The first ingredient listed is peat moss. Are they recycling for huge greenhouses? I doubt it. The 2nd ingredient is compost, so there is stretching of composted green materials with peat moss? If so, then how could it be called COMPOST? It’s also got the following additional ingredients in this order: forest products (a.k.a. sawdust), manure, and/or other organic materials. For some reason folks in Texas get 20% manure as opposed to the rest of the states getting only about 10%. And that’s when I noticed that the organic compost I asked for is not what they loaded into my vehicle. It’s Organic Humus with Cow Manure, but calling peat moss humus is stretching things too – it sheds water instead of holding it, unless kept continually wet (after you put it in a swamp situation for a while). Definitely returning this tomorrow…

But, I got curious what the real difference is between regular bagged organic compost with cow manure, and this landscaper’s grade stuff – other than the analysis. Nothing found. Google returned a bunch of stuff about compost, but nothing on a ‘landscaper’s grade’ variety. So, they just slap whatever they want to on the bag. Surely, there’s some regulation on what they can label as compost. Guess what…

No one makes sure that organic compost with cow manure is really organic.

There are no compost police. No inspectors going out to test these piles that fill the bags of supposed manure enriched compost sold wherever gardening supplies are available. The bag says organic, but there is no oversight. And what is in the bag isn’t synthetic, so they can say that it’s organic without it actually being ORGANIC – as in free of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, GMOs, deodorizers, fly spray, and cow pharmaceuticals. You won’t find a certified organic bag of commercially packaged compost anywhere in the U.S.

The USDA does not regulate compost, even when it’s used on organic farms for growing fruits and vegetables. The EPA doesn’t regulate it either unless it’s composted human manure, commonly referred to as sludge or biosolids. Many other countries do have regulations in place to ensure that compost sold meets quality guidelines. Unfortunately, Americans are putting bags of ‘organic’ compost in their veggie garden that is definitely not chemical free, and no doubt stretched with fillers like sawdust and fresh peat moss, soil, and even rocks.

There is an organization called the U.S. Compost Council that was created by Proctor & Gamble in the early 1990s as a promotional stunt for composting disposable diapers after some states banned them from landfills. Not only are disposable diapers not compostable, but it caused a stink nationwide. So, P&G never did anything with their diaper composting idea, but the USCC remains in operation, and makes money on testing compost for some composting companies. For a hefty fee, they receive a lab analysis of a lot more than nutrient content, including pH, respiration rate, and salt content – along with the USCC Seal of Testing Assurance. However, this isn’t a regulatory organization. Testing is voluntary. The USCC is a private for-profit business.

Cow Manure and Organic Compost Isn't Chemical-Free

Notice how the label is worded on the bag pictured above? The compost is stated as ‘organic’ – but not the cow manure. And Earthgro seems like it would be a small, caring company, after all it’s not a major brand. Ah, but it is. Look that label over real good… it’s packaged by Hyponex, a Scotts company. One other thing I noticed on this label is the wording on the ingredients. It is compost from leaves and clippings, but not organic leaves and clippings. “Compost derived of leaves and grass clippings, forest products, and/or other organic materials.”

Last image courtesy of Imperfectly Frugally.




Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.

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