September 12, 2007 | General

Registration Options For Compost Products

BioCycle September 2007, Vol. 48, No. 9, p. 30
Plant Food Control Officials adopt language for Bulk Compost Rules and Regulations that lay the groundwork for composters to make nutrient claims for their bulk compost.
Ron Alexander

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THE American Association of Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) is a volunteer organization of state Department of Agriculture (DOA) officials whose offices regulate the distribution and sale of fertilizer, soil amendments and liming agents in each state in the United States, its territories, as well as Canada. Over the past ten years, the U.S. Composting Council (USCC) – through its Committees and volunteers – has worked with AAPFCO to find better methods and create additional options for regulating the sale of compost. This ongoing effort has been important, since compost production has grown so dramatically over the past 20 years, and regulation regarding its distribution is often vague and misunderstood.
AAPFCO creates model laws and regulations to assist interstate commerce and consumer protection by requiring “truth in labeling,” and promoting uniform regulation from state to state. It should be noted, however, that its model laws, regulations and Statements of Uniform Interpretation and Policy (SUIP) are created to provide guidance to states – they are not forced upon them. Composters should understand that state DOAs (AAPFCO members) can greatly impact the way they do business – from requiring them to pay tonnage and other registration fees, to creating minimum product standards, to changing the way products are labeled.
Through this decade-long process, the composting industry’s overall goals in engaging AAPFCO have been to: allow compost producers to disclose nutrient content and make soil amending claims; allow for the more precise disclosure of nutrient content for bulk compost – for environmental and plant efficacy purposes; and allow for additional options for bulk compost regulation.
Currently, most compost produced in the U.S. is sold in bulk form. A gray area in state DOA registration exists, as compost possesses both fertilizing and soil amending properties. Many initiatives have been tried to rectify this over the past ten years, including attempts to: Create a new “stand-alone” Compost Bill; create a policy allowing compost to provide test analyses containing nutrient content, without requiring fertilizer registration; Modify Uniform Soil Amendment Bill legislation to allow some type of nutrient allowance or disclosure; Modify Uniform Fertilizer Bill legislation; and (most recently) Modify Uniform Fertilizer Bill regulations.
Extensive time and effort were invested into trying to allow compost producers and marketers to make certain nutrient claims (or allow nutrient disclosure) without having to register it as a fertilizer, but those efforts were blocked at each attempt. Therefore, over the past three years, we have worked with AAPFCO to create standardized “Rules/Regulations” language under the Uniform Fertilizer Bill which will allow for compost to make both nutrient and soil amending claims – and reduce the risk to marketers of bulk compost when making nutrient claims. At the most recent AAPFCO meeting in August, standard language addressing this issue was adopted in a document titled “Rules and Regulations – Bulk Compost.”
Since composters operate in the regulatory arena, typically with oversight by a particular state’s “EPA equivalent,” they are often unaware that in most states they are also required to register their compost products with the state’s Department of Agriculture. In all states that have a Soil Amendment Law, registration is required whether compost is sold or given away if the product is distributed and soil amending claims are made. If nutrient claims are made, then the product is supposed to be registered as a fertilizer.
So what are composters’ options? There are four possibilities:
o Avoid/ignore registration: Continue to market your compost as a soil amendment and/or provide nutrient data without proper registration. Many composters will choose this option (because it is “free”), but will eventually be caught and potentially fined.
o Register as a fertilizer: Register the compost as a fertilizer (allowing nutrient data to be legally disclosed), then negotiate the soil amending claims your state will allow you to make. The current fertilizer law forces you to grossly underclaim the actual nutrient content, in order to avoid mislabeling (because of field variation). However, the new Rules and Regulations for Bulk Compost will assist you in providing more accurate nutrient disclosure. Making nutrient claims for bagged product is a little easier, since the nutrient content is less impacted by rain, i.e., “it’s in a bag.”
o Register as a soil amendment: Register your compost as a soil amendment, allowing a series of soil amending claims to be made. However, this will not allow you to legally provide nutrient content data.
o Have your state exempt compost from Department of Agriculture registration altogether: This is an option that some composters have done successfully, but it is a difficult (and political) option to pull off. (Washington State, Minnesota and New York have certain exemptions.)
In 2003, the USSC initiated a review of the Uniform Fertilizer Bill to identify the problems that would need to be addressed to enable bulk compost marketers to register their products as fertilizer. Further, it would assist AAPFCO in understanding why it was has been so difficult to regulate compost (especially bulk compost) as a fertilizer. The review provided the following comments regarding the current Uniform Fertilizer Bill:
o Requires the sale (and indication on label) of product by weight. Most composters sell bulk compost by the cubic yard. It was suggested to change this aspect of the Regulation, or allow for standard conversions from volume to weight.
o Should allow for standard soil amending claims to be made even if the compost product is registered as a fertilizer. The product clearly possesses these benefits.
o Should allow “Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Compost” (TMECC) – industry standard compost laboratory test methods manual – for compost sampling and analyzing. TMECC methods are most appropriate for organically based products (already allowed by AAPFCO).
o Makes guaranteeing the nutrient analysis difficult – moisture content in compost can significantly impact the nutrient analysis of bulk compost stored outside (primarily due to precipitation). Allow for nutrient content guarantees to be made at a specific moisture content.
o Should allow for the fractional nutrient units to be claimed – even if compost is not sold as a specialty fertilizer.
o Should allow “compost” to be named as the source of nutrients.
The new “Rules and Regulations – Bulk Compost” addresses these issues – essentially incorporating all the suggestions made above – and is now standard language in the AAPFCO Official Publication. This means that states can start to adopt the language. The complete text of the new Bulk Compost regulations can be found via a “web exclusive” link on BioCycle’s home page ( This new regulatory language allows composters to more easily make nutrient claims for their bulk compost, while still making a series of soil amending claims. However, one of the key benefits to the language will allow for more accurate nutrient disclosure to be made, which is important for the environment, plant efficacy and regulatory adherence (forthcoming nutrient management laws). The language also provides for exciting options as far as product labeling language, as it will allow composters to illustrate many more (and more accurate) product benefits.
Keep in mind that AAPFCO creates model uniform language to allow for uniform regulation from state to state. To be used, the language in the “Rules and Regulations – Bulk Compost” has to be adopted by individual state DOAs. Therefore, composters need to present it to their Departments of Agriculture or their Secretary and have it placed in their fertilizer regulation. The beauty of the language is that it was developed to fit into State Fertilizer Regulation – which means that individual state fertilizer law (which is actual legislation) will not have to be modified. The good news is that composters have another option as they seek to differentiate their compost product from other products and even other composts.
Ron Alexander is President of R. Alexander Associates, Inc., Apex, NC, 919-367-8350, R. Alexander Associates, Inc. specializes in product and market research, and development for organic recycled products. He has served as an Industry Liaison to AAPFCO, representing the U.S. Composting Council, through this process.

Complete text of the American Association of Plant Food Control Officials’ new “Rules and Regulations – Bulk Compost.” Click here to view the pdf of the document.

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