Quantifying nutrient recovery efficiency and loss from compost-based urban agriculture

Paliza Shrestha, Gaston E. Small, Adam Kay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The use of compost in urban agriculture offers an opportunity to increase nutrient recycling in urban ecosystems, but recent studies have shown that compost application often results in phosphorus (P) being applied far in excess of crop nutrient demand, creating the potential for P loss through leachate and runoff. Management goals such as maximizing crop yields or maximizing the mass of nutrients recycled from compost may inadvertently result in P loss, creating a potential ecosystem disservice. Here, we report the results from the first two years of an experimental study in which four different crops grown in raised-bed garden plots with high background P and organic matter received one of two types of compost (municipal compost made from urban organics waste, or manure-based compost) at two different levels (applied based on crop N or P demand), while additional treatments received synthetic N and P fertilizer or no soil amendments. Because of the low N:P ratio of compost relative to crop nutrient uptake, compost application based on crop N demand resulted in overapplication of P. Crop yield did not differ among treatments receiving compost inputs, and the mass of P recovered in crops relative to P inputs decreased for treatments with higher compost application rates. Treatments receiving compost targeted to crop N demand had P leachate rates approximately twice as high as other treatments. These results highlight tradeoffs inherent in recycling nutrients through UA, but they also show that targeted compost application rates have the capacity to maintain crop yields while minimizing nutrient loss. UA has the potential to help close the urban nutrient loop, but if UA is to be scaled up in order to maximize potential social, economic, and environmental benefits, it is especially important to carefully manage nutrients to avoid ecosystem disservices from nutrient pollution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0230996
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation CAREER award (award number 1651361) to Gaston E. Small. https://www.nsf.gov/The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

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