Is Cotton Burr Compost Safe?

Is Cotton Burr Compost Safe

If you’re interested in cotton burr compost, you might have heard others express concerns about this product’s safety. Before long, you find yourself wondering “is cotton burr compost safe?

What about residual herbicides and arsenic? Is there any validity behind these concerns?

Of course, you want to make sure any product you apply to your garden or lawn is safe for yourself, family, pets, and garden. We’re going to investigate some of the safety concerns regarding cotton burr compost to help you decide whether you feel comfortable using it.

Short Answer: Is Cotton Burr Compost Safe?

Cotton burr compost is generally safe for humans and pets. Of course, each batch of compost is different, so it’s hard to make one sweeping statement about the safety of cotton burr compost.

When you choose a specific compost, you want to make sure that the producer follows proper composting protocols. If the compost was not heated to the necessary temperature or turned frequently, there’s an increased risk of residual herbicides.

Composters that keep records about the source of their starting material are also better able to answer questions related to how the cotton was grown. These answers can provide information about what materials may exist in the finished compost.

Pesticides and Herbicides in Cotton Production

When people talk about the safety of cotton burr compost, they’re often worried about pesticides and herbicides. Cotton is often sprayed with both of these substances, and people justly wonder if these chemicals transfer from the crops to the finished compost.

To help answer this question, let’s explore a bit more about chemical use on cotton.

According to the USDA, farmers frequently use herbicides and often use pesticides. In 2017, 91% of farmers in major cotton-growing states applied herbicides to their crops and 43% applied insecticides.

When we look are herbicides, these are the top 5 most commonly applied products:

  1. Glyphosate isopropylamine salt
  2. Trifluralin
  3. Diuron
  4. Glyphosate potassium salt
  5. Glufosinate-ammonium

This doesn’t mean that other herbicides aren’t applied, but the ones listed above are most likely to be found on cotton.

Do Herbicides Carry Over From Cotton to Compost?

We know that most cotton produced in the US is sprayed with herbicides. But we’re talking about cotton burr compost, not cotton. So, it’s important to find out whether these chemicals still exist after the composting process is complete.

Composting professionals worry about persistent herbicides — products that don’t break down during the composting process.

Here are the four main persistent herbicides :

  1. Clopyralid
  2. Aminopyralid 
  3. Aminocyclopyrachlor
  4. Picloram

If you compare this list of persistent herbicides to the products most frequently sprayed on cotton, you’ll see there isn’t any crossover. This means that the most commonly-applied cotton herbicides will degrade during a properly managed cotton burr composting process.

Another important thing to note is that all four of the major persistent herbicides are used to control broadleaf weeds like thistle, pigweed, and clover. Know what else is a broadleaf plant? Cotton.

This means that these herbicides will also kill cotton. So, you won’t find farmers spraying their fields will persistent herbicides. 

Rather, these herbicides are used on monocots like corn, lawns, and other grasses. So, they’re more of a concern in compost made from grass clippings or animal bedding.

What About Arsenic?

In the past, arsenic acid was used to defoliate cotton plants before harvest. As the name suggests, this material contains the heavy metal arsenic. Consuming elevated levels of arsenic can lead to serious health issues, including problems with the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

The good news is that arsenic acid is no longer used on cotton. In fact, growers stopped using it in the early 1990s.

However, organic forms of arsenic are still used today, including cacodylic acid and dimethyl arsenic acid. These organic forms of arsenic are less toxic than inorganic forms.

One study has shown that while the use of these organic arsenic compounds increases levels of arsenic in the surrounding environment, levels are still below dangerous levels.

What’s all this mean? You don’t have to worry about arsenic in your cotton burr compost. Although small levels of this heavy metal may be present, it won’t create any toxic effects.

Is Cotton Burr Compost Organic?

While cotton butt compost is unlikely to contain any of the persistent herbicides mentioned above, it’s not necessarily organic. Small levels of other insecticides and herbicides may exist in finished compost.

Since most cotton burr composting companies don’t frequently test their products for inorganic chemicals, they can’t say for certain what these composts do or do not contain. Therefore, they can’t be labeled organic.

Companies may tell you that the product is organic but not certified, but it’s up to you if you want to believe their word. Since most inorganic pesticides and herbicides used on cotton degrade over a short period of time, it’s possible the compost is organic. But, you can’t know for sure unless you complete the expensive process of testing it yourself.

Is Cotton Burr Compost Safe for Dogs?

Yes, most cotton burr compost is safe for dogs, children, and adults. With that said, you don’t want to let pets or kids consume compost! They will likely be fine if they accidentally eat a small bit, but it’s best to discourage chowing down on this organic material.

Final Thoughts

If you live in the South or Southeast, you might have easy access to cotton burr compost. This product helps reuse cotton waste, and it can also boost the organic matter in the soil.

While some people express concerns regarding cotton burr compost, it’s generally safe to apply to your garden or lawn. Of course, you should still investigate the specific brand of compost you’re using and decide if you feel comfortable applying this product.

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