Close to nine months ago, a group of passionate young Far North locals decided to approach their local council with the idea of making high quality compost for agriculture from municipal waste. A few days ago we marked a moment in time when, after a steep learning curve or two and 1000’s of hours of work, we signed the contract under the shade of a eucalypt on the bonnet of a Holden Commodore. The Tablelands Regional Council had voted and now signed to support Trust Nature FNQ in its “Vital Soils Initiative”.
The Vital Soils Project proposed by Trust Nature FNQ, in association with Northern Gulf Resource Management Group, involves a collaboration of government, private enterprise, regional NRM bodies and community organisations committed to avoiding waste, improving the economic and environmental sustainability of farming communities and improving environmental health in the region. The initiative will provide a means to close-the-loop on key nutrient resources and provide multiple economic, environmental and social benefits.
The initiative is centred on utilising key council waste streams and agricultural waste streams to produce high value, biologically active compost. This will divert resources from landfill and eliminate potential on-farm environmental hazards. Processing will occur at local council sites throughout the Far North Queensland region. The composting technique to be used is a safe, thermal-aerobic process, in which compost is made as a medium for growing beneficial soil microorganisms. The resultant product, Bio-Vital™ Compost, is a tested, high value, vital, soil amendment offering a range of agricultural and environmental benefits.
The direct benefits to Councils are:
- Cost recovery for municipal waste streams which are currently mostly a cost liability
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfill (the major source of GHG emissions for Councils in this region)
- Dealing safely with waste in close proximity to its source, resulting in reduced transport costs
- Providing a carbon offset mechanism
- Providing an opportunity to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility and support their local community
The environmental benefits of this process are:
- Recycling nutrients to agricultural land in a manner that builds soil health and soil’s capacity to act as a carbon sink
- Reducing fertilizer and chemical use resulting in reduced runoff of these agents into waterways and the Great Barrier Reef
- Reducing irrigation requirements in agricultural land
- Reduced environmental harm leading to an increased resilience to climate change
The benefits of this specific soil amendment product for agriculture are that it:
- Reduces input costs for farmers
- Increases the soil’s ability to sequester carbon using soil microbiology
- Increases organic matter in the soil profile
- Increases farm productivity
- Increases water use efficiency
- Improves soil, plant and crop health
- Ensures the organisms the plant requires are present and functioning
- Holds nutrients in non-leachable forms so they remain in the soil profile
- Provides nutrients in the soil that are in a plant available form and increases crop up-take and reduces plant stress
- Provides improvements in soil pH, soil structure, and nutrient cycling
- Suppresses disease-causing organisms
- Protects plant surfaces both above and below the ground
- Increases decomposition of toxic compounds in soil profile
- Improves the quality and nutritional value of produce
The benefits of this soil amendment and the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils have been verified by extensive research and field studies.
Further information can be found at:
- www.soilfoodweb.com.au – Dr. Elaine Ingham
- www.amazingcarbon.com – Dr. Christine Jones
- www.trustnature.com.au – Paul Taylor
The soil amendment can be applied in conjunction with numerous existing and innovative farming techniques to maximize the benefit to soil health. Education is a primary objective of this initiative and education services will be available to farmers to assist them to implement these innovative practices on local farms. The upcoming Regenerative Agriculture Workshop Series 2010 will play an important role in delivering world-class education on this and a number of other innovative farming methodologies.
A further recent development has been the announcement that Daryl Hannah; actress, film maker and leading environmental campaigner will arrive in Cairns to attend APC10 as well as take FreeRange Permaculture’s 2-week residential PDC with Darren Doherty prior to the conference. Coinciding with Daryl’s visit we are requesting the Federal Minister for Agriculture at that time to officially open the site. One of Daryl’s objectives whilst here is to shine the spot light on the GBR and make the link for the broader community and Government officials how the agricultural practices of local farmers directly affect its health. As an example, a couple of our compost ingredients come from the local sugar mill, bagasse and mill mud. Mill mud is currently directly applied to sugar cane and resultant run-off has severe implications environmentally. There is an oversupply of bagasse beyond even what is required for co-gen operations. As with our other compost ingredients, taking these two “waste” streams and turning them into something highly valued by local farmers, ultimately helps the reef.
It is proposed that this initiative be run in conjunction with research into bio-char and its applications for agriculture by researchers at James Cook University. In this way numerous methods to process waste can be investigated and the benefits of the resulting soil amendments can be compared. This has the potential to uncover exciting synergies between these two waste-processing options.
The outcomes of this initiative will be verified by rigorous field-testing by university-based researchers and regional NRM bodies. This information will then be distributed to the farming and scientific communities.
A central tenant of this initiative is to locally source expertise, labor, input products, equipment and financial capital, where possible. In this way the initiative will also close-the-loop on financial resources and thereby strengthen and diversify the local economy. This will create local employment and improve the resilience of the local community.
The potential benefits of this initiative for the region, delivering positive economic, ecological and social outcomes are substantial. The ability to address issues of sustainability, productivity and resilience across the entire community is something the whole Trust Nature FNQ team looks forward to demonstrating.