Killing Our Crops with Compost?
So I’m harmlessly going about the simple task of procuring some compost for a few garden projects, when I stumbled upon some mind-numbing information. The very compost we organic gardeners depend upon for enriching our soils and fertilizing our crops, could very well be undermining our garden’s productivity. No, the act of composting is not to blame, but the prevalence of a certain herbicide, applied to the precious raw materials used to make that compost. If your organic tomatoes didn’t thrive this past season, listen up!
Here’s the deal: growers of grass crops have been using a product called clopyralid, which kills broad-leaved weeds, like dandelions, thistles, etc. So everything from lawn clippings in yard waste, to straw animal bedding, to manure from animals fed hay has potentially been contaminated. This product is particularly slow to break down during composting. But the most troubling fact is that this herbicide will damage (photos of damage):
It also means you can forget about truly growing organic, unless you have maintained strict vigilance over your own compost production.
Washington State has done much to regulate the use of clopyralid, and the amount found in compost has decreased dramatically since it was first found (about 2001), however, according to Cliff Weed, Pesticide Compliance Program manager at Washington State Department of Agriculture (no I’m not making his name up, truth is more amusing than fiction):
the ban is not nationwide and . . . there are instances where animal feed or bedding brought in from other states or Canada may be contaminated with the herbicide. As a result, Washington will probably not completely eradicate it from compost. (WSDA link)That also means you might want to check out your state’s stance on clopyralid and whether it has been found in significant concentration in compost in your region.