Research funded by Ceres Trust
Practical Farmers of Iowa
March 31, 2021

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In a Nutshell:

  • Hannah Breckbill, Emily Fagan and Jon Yagla wanted to see which potting soil produced the best transplants in each of their farms’ production systems, in order to determine how they should order potting soil in the future.
  • Cooperators expected Vermont Compost, the most expensive choice, to perform better than Cowsmo and Beautiful Land Products.

Key Findings:

  • At Breckbill and Fagan’s farm, the media did not statistically differ from one another. At Yagla’s, the Beautiful Land Products and Cowsmo soil outperformed Vermont Compost Company in stem diameter and number of leaves, but not in ease of work.
  • Fagan will continue to bulk-order Cowsmo soil based on these findings, and all farmers have a better idea of what qualities they desire in potting soil.


When growing vegetables that are seeded in a greenhouse and later transplanted into a field, the seed-starting media used is important to the initial resilience of these crops. Three brands of potting soil that are commonly used for these starter media in Iowa: Beautiful Land Products, Cowsmo and Vermont Compost Company. Beautiful Land Products is a local soil company out of West Branch, Cowsmo is a Wisconsin-based company that many farmers use (and is best for bulk orders), and Vermont Compost is an organic, high-quality potting soil and the most expensive of the three. Knowing the potting soil that each farmer prefers most will allow them to determine whether they should bulk order soil, purchase it from their local shop, or invest in a brand that is not local, but produces higher quality transplants….

Credit: Breckbill and Fagan’s Farm &

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