Precision compost could boost crop yields

·2-min read

The perfect organic blend of compost could provide a vital boost to global crop production and deliver huge benefits to the planet, new research shows.

Farmers using Precision Compost Strategy (PCS) in large-scale agriculture could improve crop yield, soil health and divert biowaste from landfill where it generates harmful greenhouse gases, says Professor Susanne Schmidt of UQ's School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.

"Instead of relying just on mineral fertilisers, PCS involves supplementing the right type of compost with nutrients to match the needs of soils and crops," Prof Schmidt said.

"Soils that have become compacted and acidic are then aerated and neutralised and as a result, they can retain more water, facilitate root growth and nourish the organisms that keep soils and crops healthy."

Prof Schmidt said soil quality played a crucial role in ensuring global food security with more than 30 per cent of the world's agricultural soil classified as degraded.

By 2050, scientists predict up to 90 per cent of farming soil will be degraded and produce smaller crop yields.

Using compost could be the answer, Professor Schmidt said.

The ingredients for compost come from agriculture, including crop residues and processing wastes, food and green wastes, animal production and human wastes. Additional crop nutrients for precision compost may come from mineral fertilisers and recycled materials.

"Our research estimates PCS could boost the annual global production of major cereal crops by 96 million tonnes, or four per cent of current production," Prof Schmidt said.

"This has flow-on effects for consumers by addressing food shortages and price hikes."

The study found applying PCS to large-scale agriculture could also mitigate climate change.

"In Australia alone, more than 7 million tonnes of biowaste ends up in landfill every year where it generates huge amounts of avoidable greenhouse gases and other undesirable effects," Prof Schmidt said.

"If we repurpose it, we can restore crucial carbon in cropland topsoil. There are cost benefits too: diverting just 15,000 tonnes of biowaste could save a local council as much as $2-3 million a year."

Far north Queensland sugarcane farmer Tony Rossi said his family's company V Rossi & Sons had been using precision compost for seven years.

The family use recycled waste materials to create compost, conditioning the soil and supplying cane organic nutrients.

"We've been able to almost halve our fertiliser use which is so much better for the environment, and our crop yield is the same," Mr Rossi said.

More than 2000 examples of compost use in the agricultural sector across the globe were analysed as part of the PCS study.