BioCycle Trailblazer: Francis (Frank) Gouin, PhD

Francis (Frank) Gouin, PhD (1938-2018), Emeritus Professor, University of Maryland

BioCycle July 2019, Vol. 60 No. 5, p. 24

BioCycle Trailblazers

Frank Gouin

Frank Gouin

In July/August 1985, I wrote a profile of Dr. Francis (Frank) Gouin, at the time a Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at the University of Maryland. Gouin went on to become the Chair of the University’s Horticulture Department. The title of the article, “He Brings New Life To Compost,” captures some of the earlier “aha” moments of Gouin’s career. Here are a few:

• In 1972, Frank Gouin received an invitation to attend an open house at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Research Center [in Beltsville, MD]. The open house was held to introduce people to the research done on the aerated static pile (ASP) composting method, developed by the Center. “I went over there and when I saw the compost I said, ‘Eureka! I found a substitute’,” recalled Gouin. He had been looking for an organic material that could be used as a partial substitute for peat because the quality of that material had started to decline. “I saw an opportunity for the horticultural industry and no one else at Beltsville at that time wanted to work with the compost [on applications].”

• Gouin’s research with the compost proved fruitful, e.g., he found that compost can be used successfully in container mixes in the greenhouse industry, reducing the need for fertilizer by at least 50 percent. The rate of plant growth is accelerated and the amount of peat in the mix can be reduced. “In the landscape industry, compost can be substituted 100 percent for peat or pine bark and there is no need to add fertilizer.”

• “The market is there to absorb compost,” Gouin continued. “The horticulture nursery and landscaping industries utilize more organic material in a raw state — in container mixes and as a soil amendment — than any agricultural industry. They will be the biggest users of compost.”

• This following passage is what I remember most about Frank Gouin, as the first time I heard him speak was at a gathering of the nursery industry: “The first seven to eight years, people [in the nursery-landscaping market] turned us off. But I kept saying, ‘Try it, you’ll like it.’ I lectured around the country and kept getting blank stares… that’s when I decided to make my talks humorous, because when people are laughing, they’re listening.”

• In the article, Gouin included a number of tips. This one stands out: Get potential users to try the compost—but make them invest some money from the start. “If you give them a truckload of compost to try, charge them for the transportation costs. Then the next time, if they like it, they’ll pay for the load. If you give it to them absolutely free of charge, they haven’t invested anything initially and then the material isn’t worth anything to them.”

— Nora Goldstein, BioCycle

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