A commitment to making a genuine contribution to environmental sustainability and a vision to add value along the whole supply chain has seen grain fed beef producers Mort & Co take on an innovative project that is a first of its kind in Australia.
Owners of Australia’s largest feedlot, the team at Mort & Co have changed the way they think about the manure produced at their facilities, taking the view that rather than being a waste product, it is an abundant resource.
Feeding almost 80,000 head of cattle on any given day, Grassdale Feedlot produces 100,000 tonnes of manure each year.
Traditionally, the manure was used as fertiliser on their farming country and surplus product was sold to local farmers, however the vision to value add to the waste product has seen the inception of Grassdale Fertilisers, which produces Australia’s first carbon-based organic granule fertiliser.
Grassdale Fertilisers business manager Rob Wheatley says the granule product is a game changer for farmers, allowing them to utilise machinery they already have, and find efficiencies and cost savings in terms of time and labour.
“Rather than being the raw, conditioned material that most feedlots would sell in bulk and farmers spread in a broadacre scenario, the granular fertiliser can be targeted under the seed, a vegetable seedling, or even under trees and vines,” Mr Wheatley said.
“Strategically applying the granule at a particular depth under the soil, rather than spreading the manure and needing to incorporate it into the soil, means a far greater availability of nutrients that are immediately available for uptake by the plant, as well as better utilisation of equipment such as air seeders for application.”
The product is not just for farmers, Mr Wheatley said, with gardeners and lawn lovers also able to reap the rewards.
“This is an exceptional product. It’s a natural product, it’s got biology and it’s composted properly, it’s not smelly or messy and there’s no dust, so it can easily be used by people in the garden.
“A lot of people are very proud of their lawns these days, and if you’re looking to have the best lawn in your neighbourhood, this is the product for that.”
Turning manure into a granule
“Leading the future by bringing back the past” is how Grassdale Fertilisers technical manager Kyle Merritt describes the process of turning feedlot manure into a carbon-based organic granule fertiliser.
“Basically, what we’re doing is using compost, which has been used for eons, but putting it into a form that can be easily used by modern machinery,” he said.
“From the feedlot pens, the product reaches the pad where it gets put into windrows and we put it through a composting program.”
Using a specialised compost turner imported from Europe, the manure is turned a specific number of times to meet the Australian Certified Organic minimum standards, before being dried and compounded into a granule with ingredients such as gypsum and lime added to produce a granulised fertiliser with superior spreading characteristics.
The entire process from manure landing on the pad to being a granule ready for sale takes 15 weeks.
Putting carbon back into the soil
The product also has positive implications from a carbon farming and carbon trading perspective.
“Compost is 31pc organic carbon so we’re putting carbon back into the soil, which is important,” Mr Merritt said.
“We believe our product will be carbon positive, which will be environmentally positive, so the benefits are not just from a nutrient and efficiency point of view, but also from an environmental sustainability point of view.”
Following three years of research and development to bring Grassdale Fertilisers to life, the products will be launched in mid-2022 and are receiving strong interest from not only Australian farmers, but also Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
The hope is the business will become the leading carbon-based fertiliser manufacturer in Australia, with a pipeline of research and development to bring innovative and profitable products to the market.
Adding value to supply chain
It’s only early days for the business, but Mr Wheatley says it’s an exciting time and they’re proud to be contributing a product that effectively ‘closes the circle’ in agricultural production.
“We’re feeding the cattle grain, the cattle are creating waste and we’re converting that waste back into a positive product that’s easy to use and is going back onto the paddocks to grow the grain crop, so we’ve really closed the circle and that’s a great thing for the environment,” he said.
“We do get some waste, what they call fines, out of the production process, but we can’t keep up with enquiries from the turf industry for that,” Mr Wheatley said.
“Because it’s so fine, the turf industry wants to put it through a hand spreader where they can get a lot quicker response because the product is a lot finer than the granule.
“So, we do use everything, and we’re adding value along the whole supply chain which is a pretty cool concept.”