Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Published in the Journal of Environmental Quality 26(1) (January-February 1997): 189-193.


Quantification of nutrient and mass loss during composting is needed to understand the composting process, to implement methods for nutrient conservation, and to reduce potential adverse environmental impact. Beef cattle feedlot manure was composted in a windrow on an open concrete area in 1992, 1993, and 1994 to determine the amounts of nutrient, C, and mass loss during composting. The area was enclosed on all sides with a 0.2 m high metal sheet to direct runoff to a fiberglass tank (4000 L) during rainfall. Nutrients in runoff represented combined runoff and leaching losses. Nutrients, C, and mass loss during composting was determined by the difference between the amounts at the beginning and at the end of the composting. Nitrogen loss during composting ranged from 19 to 42%and was related to the initial manure N content. Ammonia volatilization (calculated by difference) accounted for >92% of the N loss whereas combined runoff nitrate and ammonium loss was <0.5%. Mass loss was relatively low (15- 20%) while C loss ranged from 46 to 62% and was basically all through bio-oxidation. Phosphorus runoff loss, the main mechanism for P loss, was low (<2%). Manure N/P ratio decreased during composting, indicating a greater soil P buildup potential with compost application. Potassium and Na losses in runoff were high (>6.5% each) in 1992 and 1993; they were low (<2% each) in 1994 due to fewer rainfall. Calcium and Mg losses were <6% each year. Nutrient and salt loss during composting resulted in reduced electrical conductivity of the composted manure. Ammonium and P concentrations in runoff would create surface water pollution if runoff was not diluted with fresh water.