Clopyralid in Compost
Posted: Aug-19-2004 at 4:40pm
grammagt, what a shame that the farmer used any herbicide at all, let alone one that would persist in the soil (compost). A good lesson to remember when asking about what materials are in the compost to also ask specifically what chemicals have been sprayed or added to the compost.
I wonder if it was clopyralid? This might be of interest from the Oregon State University : Contaminated compost has been cited as the culprit in several non-target herbicide injury cases across the country. In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington State Department of Agriculture is considering restrictions on the use of clopyralid for this growing season as a result of contaminations in King County, Spokane, and at Washington State University. The Spokane Regional Compost Facility currently has about 25,000 cubic yards of contaminated compost on-site, and by October had paid $12,900 in claims of non-target injury. Additionally, the facility has claimed a loss of about $155,000 in compost sales. At Washington State University, the state has paid more than $250,000 in claims of contamination to homeowners, gardeners, and nursery operators. Contamination claims have not been limited to residential and commercial applications of clopyralid. Contaminated manure from animals fed with plant material containing clopyralid, as well as contaminated mint compost, have been blamed for injury to gardens and home landscapes.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 6:22am
In case you OR gardeners haven't heard, the Seattle Woodland Park Zoo anounced this week that they've had to cancel their fall ZooDoo distribution due to Clopyralid contamination.
All wheat straw should be treated as suspect. I have long been getting fresh straw each fall and just letting it sit for at least a year before I use it as mulch. Winter rains germinate the left over seeds and our dry summers kill them for me.
Eventually the rain should also flush the contaminate. I recall Ciscoe advising that a home gardener can test compost with a quick growing susceptible plant like peas. The seeds will germinate in cool temps and give a late winter warning of a problem.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 9:19am
Interesting. I think the compost companies need to certify that the compost is free from herbicides. Can they say exactly where they got the compost from? When I was at Mt Scott the other day looking at gravel, I did not see any info on the compost that guarentees the compost free from herbicides or even where they get it from. I did not ask as I was looking at gravel and I compost my own but I would think they would advertise if they knew. Next time I'll have to ask to be sure.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 9:59am
When the problem with Clopyralid in compost first surfaced - 2 or 3 years ago - I checked with Glen Andresen of Metro's Natural Gardening Program and Jan McNeilan, head of the Metro tri-county OSU Extension Service for more information. At the time, I was told that Oregon did not have the problem Washington did. It certainly hasn't made the news in Oregon as it has in Washington. However, Glen had experienced some problems with his own edible-intensive garden; the symptoms made him suspect herbicide damage of some sort. It took awhile but he finally learned that his neighbor had hired a new lawn crew, they were using a product that contained Clopyralid and he used her grass clippings in his compost. He made a deal with her that he would maintain her lawn so that he'd know her grass clippings were free of contaminants and his compost wouldn't be lethal to his garden. Glen's story is the only one I heard at the time where Clopyralid was unquestionably determined to be the culprit. It did seem odd to me that Oregon shouldn't have problems with this herbicide.
There is a test to check for Clopyralid in compost. It is a seperate test from the others that check for other contaminants and costs about $250 to administer. It is not done regularly - or at least it wasn't when I initially researched this.
I think it's time to see what's new on this front. I'll report what I find out.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 12:41pm
I heard back from Glen already. He wrote that he thinks the temporary ban on the Clopyralid imposed last year in Oregon is now permanent, which is good news. Clopyralid persists a long time in compost and, even at small quantities in the compost, can have a lethal effect on certain plants - tomatoes, beans and compositae plants, IIRC. Hopefully the ban will prevent it from becoming a long term problem. A trial run of new compost, as Gary suggested, before using it on susceptible plants may be a wise move for the near future.
Jeanne, it would be very difficult for companies such as Grimm's or Mt. Scott to verify that their compost is free from pesticides, including herbicides. Since the raw materials come from so many sources, the paperwork and tracking would be a nightmare. And there's no guarantee that what they are told is accurate.
It would be nice to find a completely organic source of compost. Hmmmm, another question for Glen to see if he knows of a source. More later.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 1:21pm
Hmmmm, I've wondered in the past about community composting, knowing what some of my neighbors use on their lawns.
I was just about ready to join the ranks of the compostophobes, since I never make enough anyway, but maybe I'll keep my piles going just to supplement my vegetable garden - the perennials anyway. And I'll green-manure the annual beds, as Gary recommended.
Does anyone know where the compost businesses, such as Whitney Farms, get their compost materials? You'd think they'd have thought it through, or had attorneys advise them on avoiding lawsuits, as it sounds like has happened in Washington.
"A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit
rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do."
- P. J. O'Rourke.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 2:24pm | IP 184.108.40.206
I'm wondering if the companies that sell the bagged organic composts get their raw materials from certified organic farmers. That's the only way I can think of that they could be sure of what they were getting for their ingredients.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 2:37pm
Where I buy my yards of compost it is certified organic. I imagine there are many out there, but I couldn't say where. Calling around might help in finding them. I go to Vern's Organic Topsoil in Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Organic Fine Prep Compost
Wa. State Dept. of Ecology grade AA certified. DOT approved. Safe for people, animals & the enviroment. Used for food & vegetable growing. No Bio solids or chemical contamination. This weed free compost is an excellent soil amender for any project. 3/8 Screened produces a fine dark consistency. Organics hold enough moisture to reduce waste. Faster germination stimulates dense rooting quickly. Can be used on top of lawn to feed grass and produce a healthy, dark green lawn. Use as a top dressing to amend your gardens in spring and fall.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 5:03pm
I have heard that there is a composting place in Hillsboro that certifies its compost is free of herbicides. I do not know the name of the place but my neighbor said it was quite expensive--but then, so is replacing dead plants.
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 6:02pm
Since almost of you folks are too young to have learned to translate the Latin, it means "buyer beware!"
Did anyone note that in the 2002 article linked earlier, that it was all WA public agencies that got caught? Yet, THIRY-ONE MONTHS later, the Seattle Zoo suddenly finds out why the 2004 staw is "cheaper"!
As to bagged products, Cedar Grove Compost, that processes King County's greens was the first to get burned, the first to test/eliminate, and as family owned company, I think they will be the last to be burned again.
Here is a link to the first Sea Times article on December 28, 2001:
Herbicide Ruining Compost
Posted: Aug-20-2004 at 6:44pm
Thanks for the heads-up everyone. I am going to have to get some for when I re-do my front yard and now I will know what to look for and what to beware of.
My Garden, My Haven.
Posted: Aug-21-2004 at 8:48pm
There is such a thing as "certified compost" but I don't recall exactly what it's certified regarding.
I remember getting a couple of handouts from a man at the Portland Yard Garden and Patio Show about the stuff.
Sounds like a good time to do a search on the term.
Posted: Aug-22-2004 at 10:08am
According to information found on Grimm's webpage (Grimm's is a supplier of mulch, bark dust, rock, etc in the Portland metro area), their garden mulch (which I use) is "Organic Compost," consisting of lawn and garden trimmings. Don't be misled by the term, "Organic Compost." It is legitimate use of the term because the materials that make it are organic; per Dictionary.com's definition "Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms: organic matter." But I know it is not certified organic compost - I've asked.
But I digress . . . I also found this info: "Garden Mulch is Metro certified to meet "Earthwise" standards." Metro is the organization that awards the Earthwise standards (btw, this is one of the few compost-quality programs in the country). IIRC, testing is done periodically to check for pesticide residues and heavy metals; certification is given when the compost meets the given criteria. I couldn't find any more information with a google search so I'll need to ask Glen for verification of what I recall learning some years ago.
While doing my google search, I came across this interesting post on a compost discussion email list. It addresses pesticide residue in compost and its effect on plants. Clopyralid is addressed somewhat.
For clarification: the term "pesticides" includes all 'cides - herbicide (kills plants), fungicide (fills fungi) and insecticide (kills insects).
Posted: Aug-22-2004 at 1:21pm
The WA compost was mentioned last term at PCC. I take the pesticides class every 5 years or so. Jim Meyer, the instructor, was mentioning the Washington KILLER COMPOST one evening.
I'm not afraid of erate pesticide use, and spray a few weeds around the yard about 5 times per year. For our yard, I'm only using about 1//2 gallon of water with 1/2 oz. of Roundup per treatment. I pull half the weeds.
I think our communities are WAY OVERBOARD into excesss pesticide use. Too much full-coverage application of entire lawns, entire yards, not to mention the spray "programs" sold by pesticide companies.
About 10 years ago, I had both my commercial applicators license and the Oregon pesicide consultants license. Now I keep neither. That kind of work is a burn-out for me. Too many people trying to save too much garbage (plants). 2/3 of the problems would not be present if people would select good plants, prep the soil right, and maintain proper cultural care.
About the compost - I hope our area can retain, and gain progress regarding protecting our compost and garden ammendment resources.
Posted: Aug-22-2004 at 3:44pm
Actually the compost I get is certified organic and free of pesticide residues. It is tested regularly to make sure it is free of contaminants. Also they do not take homeowners waste, or grass waste, etc to make the compost.
Posted: Aug-23-2004 at 12:20pm
I certainly understand the concerns with what's in your compost and we all need to be wise consumers and ask the tough questions and be responsible for what we end up with. We have different needs
Cedar Grove was mentioned above and that's what I buy for a couple reasons. Because they were burned before with the Clopyralid problem in the past, they've worked really hard to make sure it doesn't happen again. My understanding is they test incoming feed stock periodically and their finish product constantly. They do use home yard waste and that's another of the reasons I support them. I send out some of my yard waste that is too difficult, or that would be problamatic because my compost doesn't get hot enough. I certainly don't want it to go to the landfill, I want it recycled. But in order for that to be successful, obviously someone has to buy the resulting product.
They are a family run business and have made some missteps along the way but they seem to have reached a point where they really know what they are doing and produce a quality product. They are fairly local for me so I feel like there isn't a lot of trucking of materials (environmental impact). I had an opportunity to visit their operation and was pretty impressed with what I saw.
So that's my two cents. I put forth this perspective merely as another way to look at things and don't mean in any way to be judgemental if you make choices based on different factors.
My husband said if I buy one more plant, he is going to leave me. Boy, am I going to miss that man!
Posted: Aug-24-2004 at 8:52am
I got a response from Whitney Farms regarding their compost. Here it is:
Thank you for your interest in Whitney Farms natural gardening products. The product you have heard about is called clopyralid.
In early 2002, clopyralid was found to be getting into a variety of compost products. Most often this product is used on lawns, and the lawn clippings are being discarded as yard debris. Clopyralid does not break down readily during the municipal compost process and its effects were found on sensitive plants, grown from seed, in potting mixes with a high amount (over 50%) of compost made from yard debris.
We have followed the progress of the research and regulation closely, and our product development manager is on the board of directors of the Compost Council of Oregon, one of the groups closely involved with this issue.
We have received no reports from our customers of problems with any of our compost-containing products. We monitor our products and raw materials with both laboratory testing and seed starting tests. In addition, we work closely with our suppliers to assure that their procedures minimize the opportunity for this chemical to find its way into our products. Gardeners can use all Whitney Farms products with confidence.
We also support the general recommendations coming from regulators and compost professionals: Don't over-do it. Compost is an important addition to all kinds of soils. It improves the water-holding capacity of sandy soils and increases the aeration and drainage in heavy clay soils. Compost holds nutrients in the root zone where plants need them.
But, it is just one component in a great soil mix. Gardeners can spread up to 2 inches of compost over garden soil, then mix it into a depth of about 6 inches. Similarly, for best results, compost should make up only 25% to 30% of a container planting mix.
If you have further questions, please contact me. Have a great gardening year.
Product Information Manager - Whitney Farms
Posted: Aug-24-2004 at 10:48am
Thanks for sharing that, Jeannean, it's good information for us to have. I've used Whitney Farms products for years and I've never been dissatisfied with their quality as I have been when I've used something from a big box store (can't recall product name but it wasn't Whitney Farms).
I heard back from Glen regarding sources of organic compost in the Portland Metro area. He wrote that MRI (Metro Resources Information) at 503-234-3000 would have the most up-to-date information (I guess status can change).
Still waiting to hear regarding what Earthwise certification covers. I'll post that later.
Posted: Aug-26-2004 at 3:32am
For you Oregon folks, there is another product that will be high on the list for future use if things continue as they have so far for TAGRO, as in Tacoma Grow.
Many skeptics have already converted and the waiting list for delivery is almost as long as Seattle's ZooDoo lottery card system.
You can read all about their 3 major products and get your questions answered at: