DIY Biofertilisers

Three Tully farmers have been trialling bio fertilisers to improve soil health, cut costs and reduce nitrogen run-off into waterways.

Ray Zamora, Bob Brighton and Mario Racanello are brewing their own fertilisers and say it’s a bit like making ginger beer – except with ingredients like molasses, cow guts and fish frames it’s a little less mainstream!

The results speak for themselves.  See below for the full story...

In his first cane season trial, Mario halved synthetic fertiliser usage and saw a promising build-up in soil biology while achieving the same production levels. He has since extended the new practices to his entire farm.

Fellow trial farmer Bob Brighton hasn’t used synthetic fertilisers on his tropical fruit crop for two-and-a-half years. He has also lessened synthetic fertiliser usage on the farm’s banana plantation.

“It’s nice to go out with a non-chemical product, and hopefully we’ll get a marketing advantage down the track,’’ he says.

All three farmers have taken advantage of Terrain’s Reef Rescue Innovation Funding program to learn about manufacturing and application processes, and an expanding grower network to fine-tune those processes.

Mario produces his biological fertiliser during the slack season. He is encouraging other growers to consider bio fertilisers.

“If you think it might be a bit of hard work, we’ve done the hard work and the processes are getting easier,’’ he says.

“We have a network of farmers up and down the Queensland coast and we share ideas. In different areas there are different techniques.”

Ray Zamora says his primary focus is improving soil health.

“I have three kids and, if they love farming, my hope is that I leave it (cane farm) to them in a better condition than when I received it from my father, and that they continue on with that,’’ he says.

In the video, Mario explains the biofertiliser process – from adding minerals and going through a fermentation stage to applying the end product on crops. His trial block size was 11.24 hectares with a history of both cane and banana production. An applicator was constructed to cover seven 1.9m rows with a 5000 litre tank, allowing for quick work.
The goals were less compacted soil and more soil carbon, both of which result in decreased nitrogen run-off because of the soil’s increased water-holding capacity.

“Synthetic fertilisers kill the natural biology so it’s about building up that soil biology again,” Mario says. “The knock-on effect will be a reduction in fertiliser run-off in the waterways and Reef.”

The trial is the result of Terrain NRM’s Reef Rescue Innovation Funding program. The program, which was funded by the Australian Government, helps growers to develop their ideas through on-farm trial projects. It also helps them to link with technical advice, identify and overcome barriers to developing innovations and bring proven ideas into the mainstream.