The University of Newcastle, Australia

Growing the future of Australia’s agriculture sector

Monday, 27 May 2019

Australia’s agricultural sector is set to benefit from a million-dollar project aimed at producing fertiliser from plant and animal waste that farmers can use for crop growth and development.

Dr Dane Lamb
Dr Dane Lamb

Led by Dr Dane Lamb from the University of Newcastle, the project will develop new and efficient technology to recover essential nutrients from organic waste streams such as poultry manure, pig manure, dairy farm wastes and sewage.

“Lost nutrients from cropping and grazing need to be replaced to maintain soil fertility, otherwise farming outputs will eventually decline and so will the quality of the product,” Dr Lamb said.

“There are large reserves of phosphorus and other nutrients currently being underutilised from waste streams. We aim to recover these through a series of novel modifications to membrane and nutrient capturing technologies.”

Funded by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for High Performance Soils, $793,861 was awarded to the University of Newcastle and $224,675 was awarded to eight participant institutions to carry out the investigation over the next three years.

As most Australian soils are naturally infertile and have a low capacity to retain nutrients, careful management and costly inputs are currently required to support intensive farming.

“Australian farmers rely heavily on the input of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium and magnesium to combat extreme and highly varied climates,” Dr Lamb said.

“Typically extracted by mining, phosphorus is an important macronutrient required by plants for growth and development, however, large quantities of organic waste streams rich in phosphorus and other essential nutrients are produced annually.

“Nutrients present in these waste streams can lead to environmental problems including surface water eutrophication, which causes excessive growth of plants and algae.

“This project will serve a dual process by improving the recycling process and taking the pressure off our finite resources to produce cost-effective fertilisers for use on agricultural soils.”

The project aims to progress from laboratory scale towards field scale application by the end of the three years.

The University of Newcastle project partners include Griffith University, Southern Cross University, Central West Farming Systems, Department of Primary Industries and Regions (South Australia), Australian Organic Recycling Organisation, South East Water, Herbert Cane Productivity Services Limited and Landcare Research.

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