Compost Extracts Impacts on Soil Carbon and Microbial Activity and Crop Yield

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Date published: 10 December 2021

  1. Project Background

Farming – takes up half of the world’s habitable land, accounts for 10% of our annual GHG emissions and can have severe long-term implications for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and food security. However the potential to convert agricultural land into carbon sinks is considerable. Globally, soil organic matter contains nearly 4 times as much carbon as either the atmosphere or terrestrial vegetation.

There are many benefits of building more carbon into our soils through techniques called regenerative farming – whether it’s cutting concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, boosting food security, creating resilience against changing weather patterns or halting biodiversity loss. Regenerative agriculture is helping farmers to redesign the farming system to work together with nature, instead of against it. 

One of the first steps in improving soil health and to increase soil organic matter and carbon which is central to regenerative agriculture is to shift away from synthetic fertilisers across to natural fertilisers. By using natural fertilisers the soil biome is enhanced which increases soil organic carbon and builds new soil. Humate levels increase, improving the soil’s ability to absorb and hold water, reducing the toxic effect of residual amounts of herbicides and retaining more nutrients. 

Typical natural fertilizers include mineral sources, all animal waste including meat processing, manure, slurry, and guano, plant based fertilizers, such as compost, and biosolids.

This project is the first step in the greater process of shifting to regenerative agriculture. It will examine the ability and help develop the strategy for grain growers to transition from synthetic fertilisers to natural fertilisers while maintaining production and profitability. 

2. Project Objectives

The key objective of the project is to reduce barriers to adoption of natural fertiliser inputs in broadacre farming through a trial demonstrating a proposed ‘transitional’ methodology of conventional to biological fertilisers at time of seeding. This will be completed by examining the impacts on soil microbial activity, organic carbon and yield plus the requirement for herbicide/pesticide application through the application of different compost extracts, synthetic fertilisers and a combination of both.

The key outcome that is being explored through this project ‘can we transition from conventional agriculture to regenerative practices using biological inputs while still maintaining a productive farm enterprise?’

• Set up an agricultural multi-plot trial in order to:

• Provide technical knowledge in how to transition to Regen Ag practices using ‘30% rule’ with Compost Extract as the biological component.

• Provide quantitative evidence of Regen Ag practices being successful within low rainfall zones.

• Run a field day to review:

• application techniques and results

• advice for transitioning, and

• seek input on next steps and future trials of Regen Ag inputs.

Look at the changes to production outcomes from variation to nutrient inputs including:

• Changes to soil microbes,

• Organic carbon levels

• Requirements for herbicide/pesticides application

Questions to address from trial

1. Which product / combination produces best yield?

2. Which product / combination produces best profit?

3. Which product / combination produces best soil / plant health?