Research has shown that long-term use of compost made from recycled organics can improve soil structure and water holding capacity, and increase productivity of vegetable crops. However, growers using earlier generations of commercially available bulk compost made from recycled organic waste have experienced mixed results in the first year of application.
Now, a collaborative project funded by the NSW Environment Protection Authority has developed and demonstrated a 'next generation' compost solution that immediately delivers the production results growers require while at the same time delivering environment benefits across soil quality, water conservation and water quality.
Horticultural scientist, Dr Geoff Cresswell, who led field trials for the project, said that the key to 'next gen' composts is precise augmentation with fertiliser.
"The problem with conventional commercial composts is nitrogen drawdown by the soil microbes as they break down organic matter in the compost. Our formulation provides a 'lunch box' of nutrients for the microbes to ensure that they are helping rather than competing with the plants." The result, he said, is a win-win for growers and the environment.
"We are seeing consistently excellent results for plants grown using Next Gen compost when compared to plants grown with conventional fertilisers or with chicken manure. There is significantly better root development, better fruiting, and better soil structure and water-holding capacity." he said.
Geoff Cresswell talks about the next gen concept
David Eyre, General Manager of Research & Innovation at NSW Farmers, said that the project is great example of collaboration between industry stakeholders in achieving sustainable production. "We hope to see a significant proportion of Sydney urban organic waste returned to depleted agricultural soils in the basin. Shires like Wollondilly are already achieving great things in this area. Using recycled organics in agriculture not only diverts urban organic waste from land fill and returns it to the food cycle, it restores the natural fertility of soils and reduces dependence on chemical fertilsers - a win for community, environment and industry" he said.
Eyre said that a number of commercial compost manufacturers can provide augmented 'next gen' composts that will produce good results for vegetable growers. "Augmenting compost is not essential for all agricultural applications but is critical for vegetable growers who have demanding production cycles and limited ability to fallow paddocks. We encourage growers to get in touch with local suppliers and discuss sourcing a compost product that suits the nutritional needs of their crops. Our trials have shown that augmenting the compost at point of manufacturer with an organic nutrient source significantly improves outcomes."
He said that growers should confirm with suppliers before delivery that the compost meets the Australian Standard for composts used in food production and will be accompanied with a nutrient report. "Not all composts or suppliers are equal - it's important for growers to work with a supplier who understands the rigors of commercial vegetable production and will provide a consistent and correctly augmented product."
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About the Next Gen Compost initiative
Next Gen Compost compost project was completed in June 2017 and led by the Greater Sydney LLS in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS) and NSW Farmers. The project was funded by the NSW EPA under its Waste Less Recycle More Organics Market Development Grant Program.