Current Projects

RI’s current compost research is focused on perfecting a method of composting that reliably supports the growth of a health soil food web and on improving the composting guidelines for certified organic farmers and composters.

Master Composter Program 
The Master Composters of Rodale Institute training program trains individuals to become “Masters” of backyard composting, waste management, and outreach education to encourage a wider adoption of organic waste composting within communities. Trainees complete six 2-hour classes, one class a week for six weeks, participate in demonstrations and hands-on activities, as well as three field trips. Topics discussed during the classes include compost biology, chemistry and physics, vermicomposting, compost systems and uses, and how composting fits into a larger picture of solid waste management. Learn more about this program here.

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SARE Partnership – Corn
Rodale Institute is partnering with farmer collaborator Dan Hunsicker to conduct a research study on one of his corn fields to demonstrate, under standard grower practices, the effects of using high-biology compost with or without high-biology compost-extract on corn kernel production, plant tissue nutrient content, weed suppression, and soil quality. The purpose of the project is to evaluate whether the adoption of greater-biology compost or compost extracts or their combination works as an integrated component of growers’ management systems to increase kernel production, improve soil quality, and control weeds.

Specifically, this one-year project will assess:  1) shifts in total soil carbon, soil organic carbon, soil nutrients, EC, and pH, 2)  shifts in soil biology (total and active bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa), 3) corn biomass and kernel yield, 4) plant nutrient content at harvest, and 5) weed suppression at certain corn stages.

Project Team:
Gladis Zinati, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist


Turning the Brown Gold to Yellow Gold, January 7, 2015

Farming Systems Trial

The Farming Systems Trial began in 1981 as a 5-year controlled study of what a typical American grain farmer would go through to give up chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and it has matured into a complex, interdisciplinary, collaborative project. The Farming Systems Trial (FST) has provided fundamental research data on topics ranging from drought-tolerance to yield potential to water quality to economic viability, and has inspired similar long-term trials at research institutions nationally and internationally.

The trial is a 12-acre, 72 plot trial that currently compares four replications of six farming systems. The farming systems vary in their crop rotations, inputs and tillage practices. In any given year there are 18 unique treatments present in FST. The goal of FST is to demonstrate sustainable, consistent yields in the organic systems while building ecosystem services.

So far, FST has demonstrated that, compared to conventional farming systems, organic systems can:

• produce competitive crop yields,
• improve soil and water quality,
• reduce crop damage in drought years, and
• sequester more carbon in the soil.

Learn more

Recently Completed

Demonstration of Improved Compost Management to Effectively Utilize Animal Waste Nutrient Resources and Support Increased Soil Nutrient Retention (CIG Compost)
Rodale Institute, in collaboration with neighboring EQIP-eligible farmer James Burkholder and the local municipality of South Whitehall Township, has initiated a comparative composting demonstration, using uniform base materials (high-quality pelletized chicken manure, food waste, and municipal leaves) to illustrate the impacts of different compost pile management regimes on final compost quality, nutrient content, and nutrient retention, as well as on field soil quality and nutrient leaching after application. Two different compost management regimes (1: timed turning, based on National Organic Program (NOP) standards; and 2: temperature-related turning) will be demonstrated atop compost production pads fitted with drains to capture all precipitation and leachate that runs through each pile.

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Turning the Brown to Yellow Gold (Winter 2015)
Fact Sheet: Improved Compost Management for Certified Organic Operations (Summer 2013)
Presentation: Aerobic Composting (Spring 2013)
Turning compost by temperature (Fall 2012)
Cutting-edge compost (Spring 2012)