Project Catalyst BioFertiliser Trial Shows Promise

Elaine Seager
February 24, 2016

Project Catalyst BioFertiliser Trial Shows Promise

Mario Raccanello on his sugar cane farm near Tully

Far north cane growers are trialling biofertilisers to help slash farm runoff

Faced with depleted soils, escalating fertiliser costs and increasing pressure to reduce nitrogen runoff for the Reef, sugar cane farmer Mario Raccanello has begun trialling bio-fertiliser on his large 370ha farm near Tully.

So far the results have been promising. The first crop was harvested in November and showed no loss in production despite a 50 per cent reduction in fertiliser.

Mario said the huge cost of fertilisers required for his large farm was becoming unsustainable.    

“Many years ago my father used to grow bananas on straight cow effluent and a bit of urea, which produced massive trees and big bunches. In those days the soil was almost edible but now I can see that our soils are depleted after years of using artificial fertilisers,” he said.

He began searching for other options and became interested in the potential of bio-fertilisers. A long conversation with Gavin Kay from Terrain NRM, was enough to convince him that it was possible to restore the soil health on his farm by making bio-fertiliser.

However, his challenge was how to achieve it on a large scale and maintain production. 

Mario was determined to conduct a trial so he could test how much he could reduce his fertiliser and set about looking for the resources to help him on his way.

He secured funding from Terrain’s Reef Rescue Innovation Funding, which enabled him to purchase equipment and employ RegenAG’s Kym Cruise to teach Bio-Fert principles to himself and a group of other growers.

“I knew I had to find a solution to rising fertiliser costs but I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed help with the costs of trialling plus expert help from other people who had been through it before and understood the complexities of making bio-fertiliser recipes from scratch. Gavin and Kym really helped me nut out a lot of the early difficulties,” he said.

Mario said that the changes he is testing on his farm require a lot of trial and error and that it is an on-going process to ensure they are workable long-term solutions.

In particular, he had to find a way of making large quantities of bio-fertiliser without it taking up too much of his time.

“There have been a lot of sleepless nights trying to work out how to use bio-fertiliser simply and cost effectively. It is an on-going learning process as we keep looking for ways to improve the way we’re doing things but there’s a great satisfaction in knowing we are rejuvenating our soils for the future,” he said.

“Our goal is still to be a viable farming operation so if the trial doesn’t perform to our standards we will have to re-evaluate but so far it’s showing promising results with no loss of sugar production per hectare and a build-up of biology in the soil. The knock-on effect will also be a reduction of any fertiliser runoff into the waterways,” he said.

Mario Raccanello is one of more than 70 innovative farmers taking part in Project Catalyst. He said being a part of a network of farmers who are involved in innovation and conducting many different trials was invaluable.

For further information about Project Catalyst and Game Changer contact Michael Waring on 0428 771 361