VRM in collaboration with Envirocheck Laboratories, Growforce, Leung Distributors and several sugar cane farmers has developed a microbial liquid fertiliser process that has shown many benefits to the industry.
Encapsulated in a range of microbially enhanced fertilisers and special supplements, this process has demonstrated soil enhancement by improving soil structure, increasing water storage capacity, building humus in the critical root zone and making nutrients readily available.
Remarkably the net outcome has been to achieve these results using lower rates of pure nutrient addition but without a decrease in the yield of sugar cane.
Conventional farming practices rely heavily on chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This has led to declining soil productivity, groundwater contamination, soil erosion, inefficient nutrient uptake, higher energy costs, and risks to human and animal health.
Much has been made of the advent of sustainable farming practices which have been able to counter some of these negative effects. But the cost has often been a reduction in yield in the early years of adoption of different farming methods.
However, VRM’s innovative process has been able to maintain yields, while soils are improved and in some cases dramatically increased yields have resulted.
VRM’s microbially enhanced Bio-fertilisers provide a bridge between standard chemical products and organic techniques. Produced by fermentation, these products contain well-known nutrients which are used to grow a range of highly efficient microbes.
VRM specialises in the ability to balance microbial populations and has successfully done this for over 10 years in various other industries. The company holds patents around the world for its inoculation processes.
Recently VRM has had significant government and private sector pressure to apply its knowledge and expertise in the agricultural sector.
The Directors took the decision to begin product development in 2001. Field trials began in the Herbert Region in the same year and were expanded across North Queensland and around Australia in subsequent years.
In 2004 the first use of VRM products in Europe and the Middle East began to attract widespread interest.
It is well known that a fundamental principle for healthy soils is balanced microbial activity that maintains appropriate soil chemistry and structure.
It has recently been shown that continued use of chemical fertilisers has contributed to the decline of soil biology. In collaboration with soil care specialists, VRM determined which groups of micro-organisms would be more important to benefit the sugar cane industry.
These were then cultured and adapted to produce “pre-digested” nutrients from standard fertiliser blends. One key element in making this process successful was maintaining aerobic as well as anaerobic organisms alive and working happily together in one product. The products combine four main groups of organisms, photosynthetic bacteria, lactobacillus, yeast and other specialist organisms responsible for phosphorous and calcium management in soil, nitrogen fixation and carbon cycling.
VRM was able to culture this formulation with granulated fertiliser in a fermentation process which keeps the organisms alive and happy, even in unfavourable environments.
Through various trials on cane and banana farms, it was determined what ratio of organisms to fertiliser obtained good results. It was interesting to see that applications that contained less granulated fertiliser consistently outperformed the mixtures with higher fertiliser content.
By delivering nutrients in a liquid form and in a “pre-digested” state, VRM’s process allows for faster and more consistent uptake of the nutrients by the sugar cane.
Essentially requiring less granular fertiliser is to achieve the same result. The benefits of this are enormous. On a financial basis, farmers benefit from spending less money on purchasing fertiliser.
With improved soil health, friability also improves, resulting in further savings such as less deterioration of farming equipment, better water holding and surprisingly, less loss from erosion.
Reduced energy costs on working the soil, also results in financial benefit. On a broader scale there is significant environmental benefit as less fertiliser, leachates and runoff will reach our precious rivers, lakes and Great Barrier Reef.
For the industry however, the big impact is in overall soil health.
A healthy and biologically sound soil has numerous benefits for sugar cane; more efficient nutrient uptake in plants, less disease, greater drought resilience, increased sugar content, and a surprising trend towards an increase in yield from successive ratoons.
Close collaboration between VRM, farmers, fertiliser distributors and research institutions have been a feature of the development.
In all, the products have now been used on approximately 10, 000ha of cane, bananas and pasture land throughout the Herbert, Tully, Innisfail and Burdekin Regions.
Additionally, product is in use in several areas of NSW and Victoria and overseas. Crops have been successfully grown in a wide variety of soils and climatic conditions.
As a result, it is now possible to present conventional fertiliser blends in a liquid, predigested state which promotes rather than negatively impacting on microbial activity in the soil.
For the first time it is now possible to see the application of nutrient as an integral part in the process of soil improvement and environmental care.