Long term goals
In terms of cultivation and soil health, as a grower, have you considered your long-term goals? Although chemical fertilizers get fast short-term results, is it a sustainable solution to get the most out of your soil long-term?
The land we grow on and farm in New Zealand has often been passed down through generations and we are continually needing and asking more from it. In an era where synthetic fertilizers dominate the horticultural industry, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate the long-term impacts of our choices.
We're often consumed by the immediate gains these chemical solutions offer, but are we inadvertently sacrificing the very foundation that supports our growth - our soil's organic matter? If we keep using chemical fertilisation year after year, our plant health and yield can be negatively affected. This may be a direct correlation to the drop in organic matter and carbon content in soils.
Sustainable growing practices are becoming increasingly popular and NZ growers are looking for natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers. We spoke with Jason from ST Growers who supply 80% of their potatoes to Bluebird chips and have been using Soil Pros soil conditioning products for around 20 years, to gain an understanding of the long-term benefits of compost application.
We should really view compost as one of the key tools and investments to rebuild the health of our soils and growing environments to be true stewards of the land.
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A lot of people look at the cost rather than the advantages and what they are getting back from compost application. It is a long-term investment and you need 2 or 3 years before you will see results or can come to any conclusions.
Compost is widely known to help with weed suppression and moisture retention. Looking at the natural nutrients compost holds, it can be considered an all-around fertiliser and soil conditioner.
Most composts naturally contain a range of macro and micronutrients including calcium, magnesium, boron, nitrogen, phosphorous, iron, copper, manganese, and potassium. But more so, the incredible, true value and long-term benefits of commercial compost applied to soils are seen over a two to three-year period.
There's an opportunity to change our mindsets on creating healthy soils for our plants to a long-term investment, rather than the need to see instant results and outcomes typically looked for in business.
Benefits of applying compost for commercial growers
There are immediate benefits seen within a year or growing season from the application of compost and carbon media; like better fruit or plant yield, increased moisture in the soil, and less weed control. However, after years and years of pillaging soil, the carbon content has deteriorated quite drastically.
When the carbon or organic matter in soils deteriorates, it loses the ability to stay healthy and support positive microorganisms and fungi such as mycorrhizal to support the plant's root structure. It also helps to extract nutrients from synthetic and organic fertilisers.
It's fair to say, globally we've neglected the need for carbon content in soils. So with this in mind, it will take a number of years to rebuild this sustainably, in growing environments.
The short-term benefits of applying commercial compost
Increases organic matter
Improves soil aeration
The long-term benefits of applying commercial compost
Prevents Soil Erosion
Improves soil structure
Increases root mass
Reduces the use of synthetic fertilisers
Increased yield through fruit quantity, quality and size
Return on investment
"Many vineyard managers who apply compost and mulch after harvest are finding these products to be useful components of their vineyard floor management program. While some vineyard managers purchase these soil amendments, others make their own compost from grape pomace (grape marc). Either way, compost, and mulch are products that result from recycling materials that might otherwise be wasted. Growers and researchers alike are discovering the benefits of these recycled soil amendments." - Christy Porter, California Integrated Waste Management Board from 'Compost and Mulch - Investing in vineyard health'
In recent years, the horticultural community has been increasingly intrigued by the potential of biochar, a form of carbon-rich material created by pyrolyzing organic matter in a low-oxygen environment.
Biochar can significantly impact soil health when incorporated into horticultural practices. At Azwood, our dedication to soil health has led us to explore the benefits of integrating biochar into our compost, offering a sustainable solution for growers seeking improved soil performance.
Biochar is referred to as "permanent compost" due to its remarkable stability and longevity within the soil. Biochar resists rapid decomposition and can remain in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years.
The permanence of biochar in the soil makes it an appealing option for improving soil structure, enhancing nutrient retention, and promoting microbial activity over the long term. Its ability to lock in nutrients, carbon, and water means that it can contribute to improvements in soil health, even after many years of application.
The addition of biochar to compost aids in its overall effectiveness. By integrating small amounts of biochar into compost, we can enhance its nutrient-holding capacity and provide an excellent carrier for other essential nutrients present in compost, ultimately supporting healthier growth and increased yields.
The advantages of incorporating biochar into your soil
Locking in nutrients
Biochar serves as storage for essential nutrients, preventing leaching and ensuring these nutrients are available to plants over an extended period.
This carbon-rich material provides a haven for beneficial microorganisms, creating a thriving microbial community that contributes to enhanced soil structure and nutrient cycling.
Improve water holding capacity and reduce waterlogging
Biochar can improve soil water-holding capacity, leading to better water retention during dry spells and reduced waterlogging during heavy rainfall.
There are certain things you can do that enhance soil quality and avoid nutrient loss. We use chicken manure compost with biochar and our yields are above average compared to others who rely solely on chemical fertilizer. Because the biochar and organic matter are binding the nutrients and holding it, it’s not been washed away. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t see yield gains and cost reductions and it’s important to measure these gains such as yield, size, quantity, colour, texture and flavour.
Thinking of applying compost?
Every year, Azwood hosts a Soil Health Field Day in Marlborough and Tasman. These events are a chance for growers to learn more about the long-term benefits of compost in a commercial setting and ask any questions they might have to our experts. To see when the next Soil Health Field Day is, follow us on Linkedin or sign up to receive industry updates.
If you are interested in exploring how compost could potentially enhance your orchard or vineyard’s performance, we're here to share insights and information. Feel free to reach out if you'd like more information.Get in touch
What are the benefits of a BioGro certified compost?
Azwood has a range of compost solutions that are BioGro certified organic which benefits commercial organic growers looking for organic inputs.
Thinking of applying compost to your orchard?
We answer all the questions to help get you started and give you direction on what steps to take first when applying compost to your orchard.