Compost Benefits for Soils on the Mid-North Coast was presented by AORA NSW Branch on the 12th October 2018 at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, bringing together 47 people representing the key players within a successful regional organics circular economy. The event demonstrated innovation as well as key challenges in the production and application of compost on the mid-north coast region of NSW.
Of the 47 attending the event, 29 were from primary production and sustainable agriculture, with macadamia, banana and avocado growers being present in highest numbers but we also met graziers and growers of native flowers, Asian greens and more! The event also attracted 16 people from the organics recycling industry and allied industries. The event included a series of speakers at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour in the morning and a choice of three parallel site visits in the afternoon to: AORA Processing Member, Biomass Solutions; a local banana and avocado farm with Paul Schoker and Jeff Eggins; and the Adele Training Farm to see a blueberry farm. A reflective comment from NSW AORA Committee Member, Kathryn Whitfield summarises the benefits of compost as seen by this region:
“Really positive to hear about the strong market acceptance of compost in Coffs Harbour with local processors needing more input material to keep up with demand”
SPOTLIGHTING A STRONG LOCAL CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Through a presentation by Al Wright and a site tour provided by Alex Guise, both of AORA Processing Member Biomass Solutions based in Coffs Harbour, we learned that they process organic waste received from three local councils, Bellingen, Nambucca and Coffs Harbour, a combined population of 95,000 people. The compost produced by Biomass Solutions is retuned to local region’s agricultural sector and councils including blends with 30% sand to build better draining soils in response to the high rainfall that the region receives. Agricultural sectors using Biomass Solutions compost include soy beans, turf, beef and dairy farming, broadacre as well as banana, avocado and blueberry.
Leanne Cheal, Waste Contracts Manager for Coffs Harbour Council highlighted their success in keeping contamination levels low by working closely with Biomass Solutions to provide education to residents on how to present their organic waste. Practical tips included guidance on making a liner out of newspaper and freezing food waste to prevent odour. Leanne also highlighted the ongoing challenges echoed throughout the country including plastic bags and other plastic products such as pegs that end up in organic waste streams.
We also learned that Coffs Harbour Council parks and landscaping staff utilise compost in their sporting fields and nurseries, demonstrating a strong local circular economy that sees organic waste beneficially converted by Biomass Solutions, as well as other local organics recycling processors such as Remondis in Port Macquarie and JR Richards in Grafton, to produce to high value products that improve soils in the mid-north coast for agriculture and the community.
LOCAL BANANA, AVOCADO AND BLUEBERRY FARMING
Local banana and avocado growers Paul Schoker and Jeff Eggins hosted a group of attendees on a tour of Paul’s farm to take a closer look at the benefits as well as the challenges of applying compost on steeper slopes that are typical in the region. The Coffs Harbour Banana Growers Association headed by Wally Gately were also at the seminar to add their perspectives. We also heard from Justine Cox, a Soil Scientist from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wollongbar on the fundamentals of compost application and a recent trial involving compost application to banana trees with a blower. She also described her significant experience of the benefits that compost can provide to various farming sectors such as increased water holding capacity, root depth penetration, increased biological function and disease suppression as well as improving soil pH in acid soils, which are an issue for the region.
We learned from Jeff and Paul that two 20L buckets of compost applied around each banana tree has been found to give increased vigour, breaking up clay whilst stabilizing ground and reducing erosion and nutrient run-off, assisting with dryer conditions, more earthworms and less weeds. However, issues of workplace safety and affordable methods in applying compost are still a major concern to growers, especially on older farms where there are no rows for spreaders and other equipment to be driven, an issue requiring further innovation to address.
Adele Blueberry farm, established in 2012 is located 25km north west of Coffs Harbour in Bucca, is part of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre toured by a group of attendees in the company of Operations Manager Sandra McLennan and Soil Conservation Consultant, Simon Proust. A key factor in good soil management has been the establishment of groundcover to 75% of the farm, including between rows, which along with compost, helps to stabilize soil and build carbon. In the case of Adele farm, exposed areas of soil were mulched and seeded with a mix of grasses, legumes and herbs to achieve increase in groundcover and also in biodiversity. Sandra described the success the farm has had during establishment with compost from Biomass Solutions and using techniques such as weed gunnel on blueberry mounds. Sandra is also exploring options for recycling their own organics to produce compost.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries have produced excellent resources for banana and blueberry farmers on using recycled organics: Banana Farming; Blueberry Farming. Simon also suggested a groundcover measuring tool.
POTENTIAL FOR BIODEGRADEABLE MULCH FILM ON THE MID NORTH COAST
We also heard from Justine on agricultural bioplastic films and mulches, who kindly filled in for Rowan Williams of BASF Australia. The good news is that the price of biodegradable agricultural mulch films is coming down, especially when the costs of correctly retrieving plastic waste for recycling is considered.
The Australasian Bioplastics Association is good source for information on bioplastics. Standards relevant to biodegradable plastics are AS4736-2006 (domestic-products) and ISO 17033 (agricultural mulch films).
According to Rowan, who AORA have followed up with since the Coffs Harbour event, ISO 17033 compliant biodegradable mulch film is most popular in countries such as Japan and France where regulations mandate thicker mulch film thickness in the cases where traditional plastic mulch films are to be used by farmers so that they can be retrieved and recycled at end of the crop cycle. This has incentivized biodegradeable mulch films as they can be made thinner and left on the field and ploughed under at the end of the crop cycle.
Other informative presentations came from Oli Madgett on Platfarm which allows for the use of soil maps and aerial imaging for variable compost application, which can contribute to increasing quality and crop consistency. Oli also described a recent field trial.
Paul Cross of Eco Guardians kindly filled in during a small gap in the program and spoke of their solutions for repurposing food-waste at its source.
Brian Smith of Environmental Analysis Laboratory, part of the Southern Cross University described the Australian Standard for Soil Conditioners and Mulches (AS4454) and their approach to analysis in working with organics recycling processors as well as farmers to ensure quality compost products and to inform soil improvement in agriculture.
Please see the AORA Compost for Soils website for further useful resources.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries have developed a useful Soil Health Card.
Please contact the Australian Organics Recycling Association with any questions on:
M: 0434 625 472 E: email@example.com
This information session was supported by NSW DPI, as part of a NSW EPA Waste Less, Recycle More Organics Market Development grant, funded from the waste levy. Sponsorship by AORA Platinum + Sponsor BASF Australia, JR Richards and Remondis and in-kind support from Biomass Solutions, Environmental Analysis Laboratory and Southern Cross University are also appreciated in allowing this AORA NSW event to occur.