Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Compost - a real success story with Australia's poor soils

Compost – Bringing Age Old Practices into Modern Farming Systems

Why, might you ask, have leading farmers such as John Emerick of Mulgowie Farming Company in Queensland’s Lockeyer Valley and Ashley Keegan of FABAL, a large SA wine grower become interested in compost as part of their farming practices? John and Ashley are not alone: farmers nation wide are increasingly using compost as part of their crop nutrition and soil health programs. Despite this increased interest, Australia, on the whole, has been slow on the uptake of using compost products. In the USA, in excess of 80% of all compost is used in agricultural and horticultural operations. By contrast, less than 10% of all compost in Australia is used in this sector.

We look at a case study from FABAL:
A Case Study From Viticulture - Ashley Keegan of FABAL, a large SA wine grower, uses composted mulch in their wine grape growing operations to improve vine quality and produce more in their blocks. To establish the baseline on crop vigor Keegan uses Infrared Remote Sensing Imagery, a technology that is now readily available (either via satellite or air fly over) at costs between $5 and $25/ha depending the area you have surveyed. Remote sensing imagery provides a visual map of exactly which parts of the crop have high, medium or low vigour.
To work on this variability FABAL experimented with composted mulch by applying it to the worst blocks and monitoring effects through satellite imagery. The low vigour areas virtually all disappeared. They found that composted mulch applied banded under the vines at 100 cubic metres per hectare turned a low vigour semillon block into a high vigour block after 14 months.

Composting has come a long way. There has been a shift in the motivation for using compost from a ‘feel good’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ perspective. Farmers across a broad range of areas are now recognising that real compost products can deliver a clear commercial cost-benefit return on investment within an acceptable business risk profile. This development has been underpinned by a range of research and development projects, several of them still under way, that demonstrated the agronomic and economic benefits of compost use.

With Compost Australia driving new certification guidelines to increase the quality of composts produced and the increase in the production of tailor-made compost products are set to become an integral part of modern soil health and farm management programs.

Above Capricorn Technologies has significant tropical experience in the broad area of compost production with many different forms of production from sophisticated in-vessel systems to open windrow. We have used compost and pasteurised mulch in horticulture, agriculture and even turf in the tropics with great success. Peter Harrison the CEO of Above Capriocrn Technologies has represented the Northern Territory on the national board of Compost Australia.

Using organic mulches can also significantly reduce water use, a topical issue in almost all areas of Australia.

The major benefit arises from improved carbon levels sequestered in the soil, and while you might not get a cash $$ benefit from the greenhouse gas savings - you will be helping!

More information at a national level is available on www.compostaustralia.com or contact Above Capricorn Technologies, office@abovecapricorn.com.au .

[story partly sourced from Compost Australia]

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