Komatsu Fleet Turns Compost Into Gold for NY Firm

Wed May 28, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Mike Goche

Long Island Compost, a recycler of yard waste, puts wheel loaders to heavy use in a large-scale operation.

We all have “compost piles” in our backyards but it’s a safe bet that Ed Warner’s is slightly bigger than yours.

Warner is operations manager of Long Island Compost Corp., of Yaphank, NY, a Vigliotti family company. He oversees an operation that supplies compost to Home Depots, Frank’s Garden Centers, countless privately-owned wholesale landscape companies and golf courses throughout New York and the northeast.

The popularity of compost — the broken-down remnants of leaves, grass clippings and other ecological waste — over chemical fertilizers, has increased due to concerns about water safety and the lasting effects of chemicals on the environment.

Organic compost improves soil structure by enabling greater water and air filtration in hard turf while providing an exceptional source of nutrients required for healthy plant growth.

Just as Warner’s compost pile is bigger than yours, so too is his material handling equipment. Most green thumbs rely on plastic barrels or pull-behind lawn mower trailers. Warner relies on windrow turners, skid steers, tractor-trailers and wheel loaders — probably the most common piece of machinery found at any one of the more than 30 sites operated by Long Island Compost.

Compost Management

Long Island Compost has more than 1,000 landscapers who generate leaves, grass clippings and brush that feed the rows of compost on its “farms” throughout Long Island.

The “On-Farm” philosophy grew out of a desire to work in harmony with the surrounding communities and the environment moving away from the traditional antiquated system featuring one large site producing more odors generated by the decaying materials.

“The company that originally ran our operation did not invest enough capital into its machinery,” recalled Warner. “Grass started to pile up over a period of time, and we started getting odor complaints from the neighboring community. We very quickly took back the day-to-day operation and invested money into new equipment to keep up with the workload, but the damage was done.

“To appease the community, we started what’s called On Farm Composting, where we set up lease agreements with a number of farms in the area to rent land and run smaller operations, reducing the odor released into the community,” he said.

At each of these sites, leaves and grass are dumped and formed into windrows by skid steers and wheel loaders. Given time to settle, generally about one month, Warner and his crews turn each row of debris with a windrow turner. This aerates the pile and allows oxygen and moisture to penetrate the materials, keeping them “hot and active.”

Microbial bugs feed off the nitrogen and carbon that occurs naturally in the leaves and grass. As they reproduce and continue to feed off this energy source, carbon dioxide is released, reducing the pile to 50 percent its size in three to four months. The more aeration and the proper amount of moisture in each row helps the breakdown occur much quicker, eventually turning the material into soil.

The “science” of composting occurs in springtime when lawn maintenance crews start bringing in grass clippings. The material in the process of decay consists mostly of carbon — it needs a nitrogen source to help expedite the composting process. It’s of no value to pile all the fresh, nitrogen-rich grass clippings separately.

“Komatsu’s WA450-5 picks up the grass clippings and spreads them evenly on the top and at the sides of each existing row,” described Warner. “It’s then necessary for a windrow turner to incorporate the grass clippings into each row, creating a truly homogenized mix, balancing out the nitrogens, carbons, etc.”

From Farm to Backyard

After three to six months of decomposition, the new soil is loaded into the dump trailers by the WA450-5 and is hauled back to the Yaphank processing plant. There, a fleet of WA380, WA420 and WA500 wheel loaders work to load screeners with the compost, which is then fed into the bagging plant. All together, 30 to 50 flatbed semis of bagged compost go out to Long Island Compost’s customers per day. That doesn’t even take into account the large quantities shipped out in bulk to wholesale centers and the amount sold right off the yard at the Yaphank and Westbury, NY, sites.

Long Island Compost also serves as a one-stop shop for local landscape contractors, offering a wide selection of trees, shrubbery and consumables such as stone and mulch. Much like the compost, the mulch is shredded privately and sold throughout Long Island and New York.

Wheel loaders are the most versatile and necessary pieces of equipment used by Long Island Compost in terms of material handling. Outfitted with a 5.5-cu.-yd. (4.2 cu m) bucket, Warner demands a lot from his WA-450-5 wheel loader. Day-to-day it can be seen working on site, being loaded and unloaded off a low-bed trailer or driving on the highway from farm to farm.

In early 2002, when Warner knew it was time to upgrade to a new wheel loader to ensure maximum production, he turned to Dan Stanton, sales representative, Edward Ehrbar Inc.

“Having worked with the Vigliotti family, owners of what is now Long Island Compost since the early 80s, I was very familiar with the type of atmosphere these machines work in — very dusty, very heavy usage,” said Stanton.

“Previous wheel loaders we’ve sold into this application have what’s called an ’in-line core radiator’ installed because of potential overheating problems related to the dust and the harsh conditions. Implementing that made it easier to keep the radiator clean and the machines running cool, but it also was an added expense,” Stanton said.

“With the WA450-5, I was able to introduce them to a machine that features a reversible hydraulic fan that blows out the dust, eliminating the overheating problem and the need for the radiator we used to install,” explained Stanton.

“In the past, we would have the mechanic drive out here with the maintenance truck and service the machine when it would overheat,” said Warner. “Now we reverse the fan, the dust is expelled and you’re back in business within five minutes.”

Warner also recognized that this particular wheel loader was an intermediately-sized machine that would fit the wide range of duties and applications required of it.

“It has to go on the highway every day by itself,” said Warner. “Our operator leaves the Yaphank facility at 6:30 a.m. and will drive anywhere from a half-an-hour to an hour.

“We all feel very safe. It’s stable and comfortable for the operator who spends the whole day in it. We like the size of the machine [9 ft. 11 in. width over tires] and [the fact] that it is not an impediment to traffic. It’s also strong enough to load the soil, high enough to reach the top of the windrows and 12-foot dump trailers. It had to be a versatile machine, and Dan came through with a winner,” Warner explained.

Aside from the peripheral support applications, the loading required of the WA450-5 can be demanding. During peak season this machine has loaded 30, 50-yd. (46 m) dump trailers per day, each carrying the maximum gross weight of 120,000 lbs. (54,431 kg). In addition, it can be done in seven minutes, something Warner likes to call a “smooth operation.”

Komatsu had a hand in adding to that smoothness. It made the cab 18-percent larger than that of the Dash-3 predecessor. New to the machine also is an electronically-controlled suspension system (ECSS) that makes the ride considerably smoother than loaders operated by Long Island Compost in the past.

A versatile company depending on its versatile equipment, Long Island Compost relies as heavily on its fleet of wheel loaders as it does any other piece of machinery, and works them as hard and as long as anyone else in the construction industry. With dependable equipment and the constant backing of Dan Stanton and his team at Edward Ehrbar, Warner knows he can ensure a “smooth operation” when peak production season hits — right about now.

“The dependability of the technology being produced now is second-to-none,” said Warner. “I’ve been pleased with the reliability and durability of our wheel loaders, working in frigid temperatures and the extreme heat under dusty conditions — downtime has been nil, and thankfully so, because we’ve been busy.”

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(Mike Goche is product manager of Komtasu America Corp.)