Bio-fertiliser: Project Catalyst trial

February 27, 2019

Bio-fertiliser is being put to the test on an Ingham farm where the Fighera family wants to increase yield, stem rising costs and improve soil health.

Sergio and Sharon Fighera are running trials in sandy soils to compare bio-fertiliser and synthetic fertiliser, as well as reduced rates of each and a reduced combined rate.

Their findings are part of the 2019 Project Catalyst Forum recently held in Cairns where 200 cane farmers, researchers, scientists and agricultural industry representatives are sharing cutting-edge farming practices to improve productivity and water quality.

Project Catalyst is a partnership of more than 100 Queensland cane growers, the Australian Government, WWF, The Coca-Cola Foundation and natural resource management groups including Terrain NRM.

It is funded by the Australian Government and The Coca-Cola Foundation.

The Figheras began producing bio-fertiliser three years ago.

“With input costs a lot higher these days and with pricing volatile in the sugar cane industry we needed to find alternatives,’’ Sergio said. “Sharon went to a workshop on bio-fertiliser production and made the first batch, and we’ve gone from there.”

He has been supported through Project Catalyst to split one-hectare paddocks into six strips for a three-part trial at three different sites. Outside the trial area, a combination of bio-fertiliser and inorganic fertiliser is used on all of the farm’s plant cane and first ratoons, and chemical fertiliser use has reduced from 150k to 140k of nitrogen.

Sergio plans to drop that to 130k next year.

“Over the years we’ve done a fair bit of damage to the soils by using fertiliser and chemicals and now it’s time to wean ourselves off them, steady steady,” he said. “Our aim is to cut back to a level that’s more sustainable and profitable.”

He said cane yields hadn’t dropped, cane was “hanging in longer” and he’d noticed a greater resilience to rust. His bio-fertiliser trial follows farming changes including controlled traffic, grassing headlands and drains, and planting legume cover crops.

The Project Catalyst Forum includes virtual farm tours, a heavy focus on soil health and trial updates on everything from variable rate fertiliser application to mixed species cover-cropping and zero-tillage planting.

For more information about Project Catalyst, growers can phone Terrain NRM’s Michael Waring on 0428 771 361 and visit the Project Catalyst website.