Matthew PopplewellSoil nutrient balance & poultry waste

As growers up and down the land strive for the soil nutrient balance, be it on a small or large scale, it seems a new product that has all the answers arrives every week. As the world seeks food production equality on a planet of shrinking space and greater demand, along with the public mindset to conserve what it is chewing up, the words sustainability and organic are rarely far from our thoughts. With many simply feeling we will continue to pay a huge price in using synthetic fertilisers, the drive for the ultimate organic fertiliser continues.

The lowly chook is a walking nutrient source in more ways than one

It seems that organic foods, sprays and fertilisers are driving the horticultural industry interest more than ever before as the commercial grower is forced to value environmental preservation over lowering costs. Of late, the use of chicken manure has received much aplomb. Not that it is exactly new on the list of organic products but our understanding of its properties and its biogenetic nature has risen greatly along with the general knowledge of soil biology and nutrient uptake and the symbiotic balance of bacteria and micro-organisms within the soil.

The use of aerobic fermentation with the composting of chicken manure has showed to activate the growth of aerobic micro flora whilst removing E. coli and Salmonella leading to the reduction in odours and transforming the manure to a commercially viable and stable product.

With chicken manure, the breakdown of nutrients as it passes through the bird is far less efficient than many other large animals so much of the nutrients remain viable in manure. With the conditioning and removal of unwanted pathogens, the product becomes a neutral pH base. A fundamental process for the optimum release of nutrients, as although the plants are not adversely affected themselves by extremes of pH, their ability to control mineral uptake is impaired. The pH is of course vital in the numbers and activity of the crucial soil organisms.

Are we driving organic based feeds for amenity horticulture?

The elements that may or may not be available in the soil due to its properties or pH will ultimately transform the protein balance of genes within the plant. It is these proteins that control the movement of energy as it grows. Along with that, if vital amino acids are missing from the protein chain due to the mineral deficiencies abstracting from the soil, the quality of the plant produced as an edible product could transform its usual shelf life or taste, whilst exposing ornamental and amenity plants to poor vigour and health.

With the exception of nitrogen, the availability of most nutrients in poultry manures is fairly consistent. Nitrogen can occur in several forms, each of which may be lost if treated to varying environmental conditions or different managerial techniques.

Are uric acids feeds still confined to use on leafy edible products?

The nitrogen in poultry wastes comes from the ammonia salts, the faecal matter and uric acid. It is the acid that is the predominant form of nitrogen which easily turns to ammonia. Being a gaseous form of nitrogen this can be lost (evaporates) if not readily mixed into the soil. The mixing converts the gaseous form to an ion which latches to the organic matter and clay particles present in the soil.

One Queensland based company Dr Grow it all has taken up the challenge to find a stable chicken manure based product and with nine years of research and testing have produced a natural liquid organic poultry fertiliser. A mixture of conditioned poultry based manure and added bacteria formulated to a concentrate which can be delivered through irrigation systems for commercial use.

The value of obtaining the right soil nutrient balance is imperative for plant quality

It is a liquid fertiliser that when applied to soil previously conditioned with chemical fertilisers needs only minimal rates to release the chemicals and replace it with the microorganisms that occur naturally in the fertiliser but are multiplied by the millions because of the added bacteria. It is this bacteria’s effect on the micro-organism which gives the liquid fertiliser its ability to replenish and condition the soil naturally. The bacteria and micro-organism do not wash out of the soil with the micro-organism multiplying all the time.

Although the nitrogen stability of the nutrient balance with any organic waste product will continue to pose questions, this one example has shown the value and importance of attempting to work with the natural soil processes and not compete with them and only time will tell if our quest for long term nutrient sustainability over historically successful synthetic fertilisers will prove to be the right decision.

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