'Next-generation compost' is a generic term used to describe commercial compost products that have been amended with a nutrient source, primarily to compensate for nitrogen immobilisation, and that meet the Australian Standard for compost used in food production.
Composting is an ancient art that entails recycling organic waste to make a rich humus that is added back into soils to replenish nutrients and improve structure. This process is relatively straightforward when the complete composting cycle takes place on-farm. The farmer knows and trusts the waste source, knows the soil and the needs of the crop to be grown, and is in control of the whole process.
Typically, in modern commercial vegetable production - particularly in an urban context - it is not practical for farmers to make their own compost. Farmers may understand the benefits of using compost, but it has been difficult for them to obtain compost that meets their specifications and is free of contaminants.
In recent years, progressive recycling firms have been developing methods for generating next-generation composts from urban organic waste that are suitable for use in food production.
The Next Gen project is about increasing awareness of the potential of these products, and assisting growers and organic waste recyclers in establishing robust, cost-effective supply solutions.
A 'one-product' solution
Each farm and each grower will have specific compost needs depending on the baseline condition of the soil and the crops grown in it. Central to the Next Gen concept is a method for ascertaining precisely what compost mix is required for a particular farm; it involves examining the farmer's cost structures around fertiliser, and developing a compost specification that enables the farmer to reduce his or her use of chemical fertilisers - hence, a 'single-product' model. Sourcing the right compost product can reduce farmers' costs and provide numerous other benefits.
Compost improves soil structure and fertility and provides numerous production and environmental dividends in the long term. When first spread, however, microorganisms in immature compost can compete with crops for nutrients as they break down residual woody content. Composts for use in continuous vegetable production systems can be augmented with fertiliser by the compost manufacturer before delivery to compensate for this. Prior soil testing, and discussing the needs of your soil and crop is an essential step in moving to Next Gen composting.
Currently, it is difficult to supply fully mature compost from recycled organics on a commercial basis at price points most farmers would consider viable.
To get best results from using compost, growers should obtain independent agronomic advice about:
- the health of their soil and how best to remediate it;
- the specification of compost required for their soil and the crops they grow/intend to grow in it;
- developing a staged plan for increasing the amount of organic matter and natural fertility in the farm's soil by using compost - a plan that covers spreading rates and frequency of compost application.
Switching to a compost-based fertiliser regime can transform your vegetable-producing operation by improving soil health, reducing overall chemical-input costs and protecting crops from stress.
Achieving these great results, however, depends on sourcing the right compost product and applying it correctly.
Above all, it is critical to source compost from a supplier who is committed to and capable of providing a true agricultural compost.
Many farmers have had negative experiences using compost made from recycled organics; primarily because they have spread immature or contaminated product.
Be prepared to pay more for a compost product that meets the Australian Standard for compost for use in food production.
For more information about using compost in vegetable farming, see Tips for Growers.