Creating high quality compost and mulch for agriculture is so much more than dumping organic waste into a pile. It is a finely-honed craft that when done right can improve yields exponentially.
Get it wrong or buy compost or mulch from an operator who doesn’t really understand the intricacies, you can end up with rubbish on your produce.
Brice Kaddatz, from Macadamia & Horticultural Services, said erosion and top soil loss causes significant effects to soil health, which ultimately impacts the yield of a crop.
At the AORA Conference on Thursday afternoon, he will talk through the compost trial on a small orchard in Gympie. High quality compost was used throughout the trial on the orchard that was severely run down. “The trial was run over three years and when we crunched the numbers, the improvement in the yield was measurable. The change in the trees and soil health was startling,” Brice said.
“The soil biology was activated by the application of compost.”
However, Brice said the compost must be high quality. “There are two issues confronting macadamia growers when it comes to using compost – it has to be clean and represent value for money,” he said.
Nigel Blieschke, a viticulturist from Torbreck Vintners, agrees. “When we tried to make our own compost from the vines and grapes waste from the vineyard, we actually made the existing problem worse; it’s not as easy as it looks.
“The Barossa soil is ancient and degraded because it is so old, so composting is important for yield and vine health. While we were trying to do the right thing, all we did was put extra potassium into the soil, which is not good for soil structure.”
Nigel will delve into how Torbreck Vintners, a leading premium Barossa Valley winemaker, dealt with vineyard variability at the AORA conference.
Nigel said over the past three years Torbreck has invested a lot into determining why some areas yielded more than others. It all came down to soil biology and improving the organic matter.
“This year, after using duromulch and compost, we did infrared imaging and found uniform improvement across the whole vineyard, even during a season where it as hot and dry from November to April,” he said.
“We’ve had 100% improvement in the whites and up 30% to 70% in the Shiraz. We have improved areas of the vineyard that are up to 150 years old. By using the right mix of mulch and compost, we can maintain the area for another 150 years.”
Where some growers baulk at the cost of mulch and compost, Nigel said in the long term, it has saved Torbreck money.
Brice said it is the same for the macadamia industry. “Growers want to get it right. The industry uses a lot of compost and it makes sense when you understand that a tree’s natural habitat is existing in six inches of leaf mulch,” he said.
But the key is tapping into the circular economy. “The trial used green waste off a local council, but they are poorly equipped to deliver high quality compost. The stuff delivered was full of bricks cement and steel. Compost is the formula to get best out crops as long as it is high quality,” he said.
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