Large piles of compost at a commercial composting site

​​​​​​​What happens to pesticides in compost?

Grant Goedjen, a Ph.D. student at UMN, is trying to discover the answer to that question. And his research has captured attention from the Compost Research & Education Foundation (CREF), who awarded him one of the two 2022 Compost Research Scholarships. Goedjen is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering. He is co-advised by William Arnold and Paul Capel.

We are of course thrilled to see that the composting industry is interested in our work,” said Goedjen on receiving news of the award. “The aim of our research is to better understand the degradation, fate, and leaching potential of neonicotinoid and fipronil-based insecticides in commercial and residential composting systems. We hope that the findings from this research will help promote responsible and sustainable agricultural practices on both the commercial and residential scales in the years to come.”

Goedjen is examining the degradation (or lack thereof) of pesticides commonly applied in commercial composting operations. He studies how quickly the most frequently applied pesticides and insecticides degrade in various settings to determine if composting alone will sufficiently remove the chemicals before the organic material is sold as compost and re-applied to fields. Lab and field assessments are used to monitor the degradation of select neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides. Goedjen’s aim is to advance strategies for environmentally responsible pesticide use in agriculture and to mitigate re-application of pesticides that might linger in compost. 

Ginny Black, CREF Trustee Chair, said, “Our Board of Trustees is always impressed by the quality of research projects we learn about from our scholarship applicants…We look forward to following our two winners throughout the year seeing the progress of their research and hearing about their results when their scholarships are completed.” The second winner was Maryam Saffari Aman, a Ph.D. student at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her research project involves prevalence and persistence of PFAS in commercially available compost.

CREF focuses on supporting initiatives that enhance the stature and practices of the composting industry by supporting scientific research, increasing awareness, and educating practitioners and the public to advance environmentally and economically sustainable organics recycling. CREF is affiliated with the United States Composting Council (USCC). Winning students are invited to present their finished work at the USCC Annual Conference. CREF also offers Compost Operations Training Course (COTC) for anyone who wants to learn about the art and science of commercial scale compost production and marketing. The goal of the CREF annual scholarship is to encourage more compost-related research projects, a core mission of the Foundation.

Photo taken by Grant Goedjen shows large piles of compost at a commercial composting site.