Manure, Fertilizer, Or Compost—Which is Best? It Depends.

Successful farmers know the value of their soil. They know that good soil means good crops, a good end of the season yield. They know bad soil has the opposite effect and they also know that they can enhance the terrain of their own farm with fertilizer, mulch, and yes compost.

Compost and manure aren’t exactly exciting but the results that they produce certainly are. However, it’s not just a matter of knowing that you need lime or fertilizer, or any other soil enhancement. The most important thing is to know how and when to use these resources on your farm. It is to this end that today’s article will be of assistance. Read on for a guide to the ins and outs of soil manure and compost!

Compost vs Manure vs Fertilizer—What’s the difference?

Now we look at the intricacies of compost manure and fertilizer.

What is Compost

Compost essentially refers to any decomposed organic matter that has been processed via composting. The materials are generally recycled everyday components including leaves, vegetation, and even table scraps. It’s praised for its high-level of nutrients.

One of the best things about compost is that it is extremely versatile. It can help offset soil erosion, balance out toxins and even serve as a natural pesticide.

At its simplest level composting requires only damp organic matter and time. You’ll occasionally see people keeping small scale compost piles in their backyard that develop over the course of months or even years.

However, on an industrial level, it is possible to take a much more deliberate approach with the composting, inputting optimal levels of carbon, nitrogen, and water into the piles to vastly improve the quality and effectiveness.

Compost usually does not act alone but will be introduced to the soil along with clay, sand or other substantive materials.

The two main downsides of composting are that it requires a large volume of materials and a constant stream of effort over extended periods of time. Any given batch of compost spent months in the making before it was ever ready to be applied.

What is manure?

Like compost manure is also a nutrient-rich soil enhancement. Commercial manure is usually the concentrated solid waste of various animals. Though not necessarily great news for those destined to interact with it the very nature of the material is a testament to its effectiveness. People aren’t using it just for the fun of it.

Manure adds critical elements to the soil such as fungi bacteria and nitrogen—all factors that help plants to thrive on a nutritional level.

The application of manure is done mostly to improve the overall fertility of the soil by making the structure capable of holding more nutrients and water.

Naturally, dung does have its consequences, however. Chief among them: odor. Herbivore manure, which is most often used in the context of farming is typically fairly mild in terms of smell thanks to the low protein diet of the animal. However, pungent fumes are nevertheless strongly associated with the use of manure.

There are also health concerns. Manure can be a gateway to mice, rats, and harmful insects when not properly stored or applied.

Manure has also been known to compromise organic food, insofar as the fact that certain vegetables (corn and lettuce to name two) may contain traces of animal antibiotics when treated with manure.

What is fertilizer?

Fertilizer is a broad term that can refer to most any soil additive made to increase fertility. Fertilizers are both naturally occurring and made synthetically and generally provide a “stimulus package” (so to speak) of essential nutrients that help a plant do well.

Fertilizer is used broadly on most crops and even in domestic flower gardens. However, the type and the extent of use will depend largely on field conditions. To determine a fertilizing strategy, it is a good idea to perform soil tests that will determine the specific needs of the land.

It can be found both in solid and liquid form and is applied in a number of different ways, some fertilizers activating immediately, others releasing slowly over time.

The main consequences of fertilizers pertain to their environmental impact. Many contain potent chemicals that tend to run off into wooded or watered areas and create long term problems. For example, high levels of nitrogen can facilitate the growth of dangerous algae on bodies of water.

Regardless, the economic impact of fertilizer is unambiguous. Fertilizer is associated with larger, healthier crop yields that actually keeps food prices lower. Virtually every farm uses some form of fertilizer be it synthetic or organic.

When to Use Compost, Manure, Fertilizer or All Three?

As you may have realized these three materials are all very similar each serving the purpose of enriching the overall quality of your soil.

Compost and manure fall more into the category of organic farming. They are good in situations where you want to enrich the soil without exposing your crops to heavy chemicals. They are also able to improve the quality of your soil.

Fertilizer is generally the opposite. Though it can also be organic it is most often synthesized and processed in a factory setting. As a result, it can actually diminish the integrity of soil. However, it is also substantially richer in nutrients which means bigger, healthier plants, and ultimately, a much larger yield. Naturally, if you are growing for high volume fertilizer will be a must.

However, it’s not as black and white as all that. For example, you could use manure to stabilize or improve soil quality while also improving the overall nutrient levels of the soil with fertilizer. In this context, organic fertilizer usually works the best.


Compost, fertilizer, manure. There is no getting around these essential resources in farming. The benefits are substantial: bigger healthier crops that keep prices of food low while producing yields that consistently keep up with the needs of earth’s growing population. Ultimately, different situations will call for the use of different resources or a combination of several different ones. In any case, the right product is out there ready to make your farm thrive.

Want To Learn More? We’d Love To Help

At Norcal Ag Service we have experience connecting our customers with the efficient soil that they need to conserve water and see their plants thrive.

Contact us today for a free quote, and some guidance that will help get you on track with the right product for your needs!

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