The Next Gen Compost Project: AORA Field Day at the Greater Sydney Local Land Services Demonstration Farm

11 November 2016

Next Gen capsicum trial 6 weeks
Caption: The second capsicum crop at the LLS Demonstration Farm, at 6 weeks’ growth

Being a morning person does help when it comes to growing food. As Peter Conasch, Senior Land Services Officer of Mixed Farming at the Local Land Services Demonstration Farm in Richmond explains, one morning on the far North-West field a mist had developed over its watermelon plot. No other parts of the farm displayed this phenomenon. On inspection, all signs pointed to the soil with the Next Generation compost application, that was ameliorating the once sandy loam into a busy pasture full of microbe activity, producing a soft and fluffy growing environment for its crop.  

Next Gen Compost trial watermelon 
Caption: The watermelon crop at the LLS Demonstration Farm 

However, you don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn to achieve a productive vegetable crop. Long-term use of compost made from recycled organics shows to improve soil structure, moderate extreme soil temperature, water infiltration and holding capacity, and better yields that growers are looking for. 

The Next Generation compost trial is tackling the issues of nitrogen drawdown, compost quality, and the cost to end users. 
Supported by the NSW EPA, Next Gen is a nutritionally augmented compost that is already delivering very promising results. When a group of 80 Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) members and industry stakeholders visited the Demonstration Farm at the beginning of November, they saw the second capsicum trial at 6 weeks of growth. The rows of capsicum evaluate different compost formulations and spreading rates against standard grower practices, which is indicated by seedling establishment and early growth, yield potential, root development, nutrient utilisation, and overall soil health.

The trial consists of high and low rates of green waste compost and the comparison of performance to a Next Gen compost that has been enriched with fertiliser, as well as standard poultry manure and inorganic fertiliser. Soil samples are tested for chemical, physical and biological properties, then the project team works to a farm plan for the site comparing the history of previous compost treatment. The next stage will be planting sweet corn in December, as crops like these are responsive to fertiliser, water and disease pressures. 

AORA NSW members site visit to the LLS Demonstration Farm on 9 November 2016 
Caption: AORA NSW members site visit at the LLS Demonstration Farm on 9 November 2016

Types of compost used in the trial include:

  1. Inorganic fertiliser (Nitrophoska)
  2. Compost - 10t/ha
  3. Compost - 40t/ha
  4. Next Gen compost - 10t/ha
  5. Next Gen compost - 20t/ha
  6. Poultry manure - 25t/ha

The preliminary observations from the capsicum plot show that Next Gen is producing good growth and fruit production, no salinity and reduced risk of nutrient loss, healthier roots, no symptoms of nutrient deficiencies, and no base fertiliser or side dressings are required.

Compare this to something like cage poultry manure, which is showing reduced growth and fruit production, the highest transplant losses and salinity, as well as the highest potential for nutrient loss, and elevated heavy metals.

NextGen20 has indicated (along with inorganic fertiliser) the heaviest top weights of fresh plants, while NextGen10 is showing the most fruit. Compost40 shows the most flowers, closely followed by NextGen10, and then inorganic fertiliser.

Underneath the soil, using compost is also clearly demonstrating a higher level in root health. As for the microbial indicators, compost shows over three times more activity than conventional fertilisers.

Next Gen is highlighting the biological benefits of compost through disease suppression, stress tolerance, nutrient retention, drought resistance, and turnover of the organic and mineral pools. It is the compost that is supplying carbon, which is the energy source for all those soil microorganisms. In turn, it quantifies the long-term benefits of compost use on nutrient release, fertiliser efficiency, food safety and soil physical properties. Ultimately, the Next Gen the trial aims to produce a cleaner and more mature compost for the industry.

About the project

Next Gen Compost is a two-year project that began in 2016. It is led by the Greater Sydney Local Land Services in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS) and NSW Farmers. Funded by the NSW Environment Protection Authority under the Waste Less, Recycle More Organics Market Development Grant Program, the project includes scientific and social research, and communications elements necessary to clarify the factors surrounding the compost supply chain and to build awareness and demand.

With 59% of all NSW vegetable farms located within the Greater Sydney region, this trial represents opportunities for growers locally, and interstate. The trial aims to showcase the benefits of routinely returning recycled organics to soils on Sydney farms rather than sending it to landfill. 

Onwards to lunch. AORA NSW members site visit to the LLS Demonstration Farm on 9 November 2016
Caption: Onwards to lunch. AORA NSW members site visit at the LLS Demonstration Farm on 9 November 2016

Want to get involved?

Next Gen is keen to engage niche veggie retailers and consumers in testing their interest in, and the demand for quality compost produced food. You can get in touch to find out more by contacting Paul Bennett LLS Manager on 02 4724 2110 or at paul.bennett@lls.nsw.gov.au, or by contacting AORA at admin@aora.org.au.

Greater Sydney Local Land Services: Twitter: @lls_sydney and Facebook: @GreaterSydneyLLS

Or follow AORA on Twitter and Facebook @compostforsoils

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