ORGANIC fertiliser made at Mort & Co’s Grassdale facility west of Toowoomba is in hot demand as growers gear up for summer-crop planting amid tight supplies of urea.
Mort & Co is already moving truckloads of the granular product on to two sites in northern New South Wales, Guyra Milling on the New England tablelands, and a leased facility at Gurley Station.
Formerly a Wesfarmers fertiliser depot, the Gurley site was initially leased by Mort & Co to accumulate cottonseed, and is now building up stocks to supply the northern market as growers of cotton in particular look to prepare fields for planting in spring.
“We’ve just started getting product down there to service northern NSW in its summer-crop operations,” Mort & Co Fertilisers general manager of business development Jamie Ferguson said.
“We’re selling it through Guyra too, where we’ve got product servicing the New England.”
The Gurley Station storage centres on a 90m x 30m shed which can hold up to 14,000 tonnes of synthetic fertiliser.
Mort & Co fertiliser is generally being applied at 50-150kg/ha for winter cropping, and 100-300kg/ha for summer crops, and because it comes in 2-4mm granules, it can be applied through air seeders at or prior to planting.
“There are so many growers with excellent planters…who are putting it on to the plant line in the root zone, and putting seed over the top.”
The Mort & Co product is marketed as having 30 percent carbon, which gives it a high capacity to hold moisture, and a high cation exchange capacity.
Mr Ferguson said a portion of Mort & Co Fertilisers’ broadacre client base was using it to replace 30-50pc of its synthetic fertiliser use.
“We’ve got repeat buyers in macadamias, vegetables in the Lockyer Valley, and winter and summer- cropping areas.
“We’ve sent product up to Central Queensland, down to Moree and Goondiwindi, and as far away as South Australia.”
Mr Ferguson said micronutrients in the granules have the added benefit of reducing the risk of nitrogen leaching out of urea.
“Its nutrient-holding capacity is very good, plus it has a range of macronutrients, and using it is a way of getting carbon-nitrogen ratios right so synthetics are giving you bang for your buck.”
“It’s a combination of people realising the biology of their soil is important, and using our fertiliser in conjunction with synthetics,” Mr Ferguson said.
“Quite a few are applying it pre-planting, and the other way it’s being used is as a starter fertiliser at planting.
“It’s astounding how many people are calling up, and starting to work out how they amend and repair soils.”
Like synthetic fertilisers, organic product is in limited supply as the need for top-dressing winter crops continues across southern Australia, and parts of the northern growing region.
“The manure market is very tight in general, and urea is tight too.”
Mr Ferguson said predictions for an El Niño to develop in coming months had prompted some growers to hold back on fertiliser orders.
“With the forecast, some growers are waiting to apply more fertiliser, and others are using this dry time to get in and get ready for summer crops.”
Mr Ferguson said the Mort & Co product offered an organic product to growers who were too far from feedlots to access unprocessed manure.
“With traditional manure spreaders, you have to be in close proximity to a feedlot because of the freight cost, plus spreading costs, and with zero till, they don’t want to work it in.
“Instead of doing five tonnes per hectare of manure, you could be putting 150kg/ha through existing machinery into the root zone with our granules.”
Ready for dry test
Trials on Grassdale’s own cropping country show the use of Mort & Co fertiliser has no yield penalty when compared with urea, and “roll-on benefits year after year”.
They can also contribute to carbon credits.
“Cotton methodology is that if you can reduce nitrogen and maintain yields, you can generate ACCUs.
“You need to use other means, and one is getting soil biology right.”
Mr Ferguson said while Mort & Co Fertiliser was used by some organic growers, most customers were conventional farmers looking to improve soil health.
“Some of them are doing variable-rate applications based on organic carbon levels in their soil.”
Increased soil carbon contributes to water-holding capacity, and this may well be put to the test this year, as dry conditions limit yield potential across much of the northern region.
Mr Ferguson said wet conditions in last year’s winter-cropping season at Grassdale indicated the granules played a significant part in reducing nitrogen losses through leaching.
“It proved itself in a really wet year, and that means benefits for irrigation systems.”
Mort & Co’s plant started commercial manufacture in April last, and is currently working round the clock four days a week.
Mr Ferguson said the plant’s first year of operation has produced around 30,000t, and is “heading towards 100,000t a year”, with expansion to come from replication of the existing line.
“Over the next 4-5 years, and with repeat applications, is how soil health reacts with soil biology.”
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