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The grower-led innovation combatting rising input costsBY MICHAEL BARTHOLOMEW REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT OFFICER, VEGETABLESWAGrower-led innovation is leading to significant benefits to the profitability of horticultural operations in Carnarvon and the Southwest despite the cost of rising inputs.
This work was initiated in response to the 2016 Carnarvon fertiliser use benchmarking project, which discovered that grower nutrient inputs varied greatly as did their irrigation application rates, with no measurable influence on yield.
Since that time, participants in Carnarvon have been working with local agronomist, Scott Brain from Field Capacity to increase the water and nutrient use efficiency of fruit and vegetable crops grown in the region through the application of the Biomineral production system. The practices involved have been adapted from the findings of published research conducted in broadacre agriculture in Western Australia. Biomineral benefits
This involves the use of slow-release fertiliser formats in conjunction with specific biological agents. Growers have discovered that they could decrease nitrogen inputs by up to 60%, whilst producing greater yield and higher quality fruit and vegetables for less than half the fertiliser cost. The implementation of these systems has also resulted in a reduction in the use of pesticides and fungicides because of increased plant resilience. These results have been particularly evident in tomato crops.
The results being achieved by growers were demonstrated in an independent trial with sweetcorn as the subject crop. This saw the Biomineral treatment achieve 28% more premium grade cobs and a greater overall yield than the historically recommended grower practice, despite applying 60% less nitrogen. It was also 12% more profitable when the total marketable yield was considered and produced almost 30% less wastage through reject cobs, which are often the result of insect damage. Decreasing nitrogen inputs by up to 60% whilst producing greater yield.BIOMINERAL corn crop in Carnarvon.The Biomineral system is compatible with existing production systems.Success in Carnarvon
vegetablesWA committee President and Carnarvon vegetable producer, Dan Kuzmicich, says he has been using the biomineral system with great success for several seasons now.
“For me, since using the Biomineral system I have noticed significantly improved water use efficiency, improved plant health and vigour, with the biggest thing being a consistent crop of premium product throughout the plant’s entire lifecycle,” he says.
He added: “If you want to improve your growing practise, become more efficient and obtain a greater return, you need to look at the Biomineral system.”
The progress made in the vegetable industry has also resulted in practice change in the banana industry where the Sweeter Banana Co-operative is achieving similar results through their Regenerative Agriculture project, which involves applying the same principles. This demonstrates that this system is adaptable and scalable and that grower-led innovation has the potential to deliver positive impacts not only for the individuals involved but also the entire horticulture industry.
What makes the Biomineral system tick?
It’s relatively simple. Instead of blanket applications of short-term fertiliser, this system relies upon a few small applications of a tailored microbe blend in conjunction with controlled release mineral fertilisers and supplementary liquid formats if required.
Some of the microbes act to extend the root system, providing access to nutrients and water that otherwise the plant would be unable to reach.
Some microbes also act as the biological machinery that work to convert unavailable nutrients into plant-available forms. The controlled release mineral fertiliser component feeds both the soil biology and the plant.
Simple and flexible
The biological components of the Biomineral system are different to the Trichoderma and Rhizobia that you may have heard of before. Those organisms only perform specialised roles or have very specific host preferences. While they are very effective for the crops that they work on, they do not have the same inter-crop flexibility that the Biomineral system offers. Importantly, the Biomineral system is compatible with existing production systems, only requiring small changes in management practices to achieve success.
Growers implementing this system are still able to use conventional crop protection practices and supplementary fertilisers if required, however more importance is placed on the timing, rate and mode of action under this system to obtain the greatest results.
Traditionally, application rates have been derived on the basis of crop removal for a particular target yield using inputs that are relatively inefficient. By providing the plant with an increased water and nutrient depletion zone and through the solubilisation of non-water-soluble plant nutrients, the Biomineral system increases plant nutrient availability and water use efficiency. This can have significant implications on the bottom line, given the current cost-price squeeze.
VegNET 3.0 Regional Development Officer, Michael Bartholomew, will be working with growers to adopt the system for themselves in an effort to reduce the costs associated with fertiliser, chemical and food wastage. If this is something that interests you or you would like to learn about the system more technically, get in touch using the contact details below.