Whroo farmer proves the power of pig manure

By Country News

In the blue corner we have farming passion, generations in the making. In the red corner, introducing pig manure — and a lot of it.

Smack them together — with a bit of revived agricultural wisdom — and their double whammy is packing a pretty powerful productivity punch.

And the loser is climate change — it had no answer to someone farming climate-smart.

Just ask Whroo cropping and sheep farmer Sam McCardel about his property management epiphany after attending a three-day Climate-Smart Agriculture masterclass at Seymour (held by Farmers for Climate Action) in 2018.

Suddenly he had a formula to economically unlock the full potential of his property and, after his family had farmed it for more than 50 years, he ventured out, with faith in science, to convert a low-grade soil hobby farm into a “small but viable fat lamb, wool and cropping enterprise”.

And he used the tools good old Mother Nature provided — such as nitrogen and carbon mixed in with “an amazingly cheap, amazingly underestimated fertiliser”.

Coming home from Seymour, one of his first steps was to join forces with Pig Co Piggery to use its pig manure as an alternative to fertilisers.

“In 2016 and 2017, like many farmers, I had watched with increasing dismay as dry conditions wore down our pasture and we faced the rising cost of feeding livestock in lean years,” Mr McCardel said.

“While organic farmers have used manure for many years, there is now growing interest in carbon farming, the rising cost of inputs and drier conditions, so more and more traditional producers are rightly giving manure a second look.

“I had heard good accounts of manure as a way to lift productivity, by improving soil fertility and retaining moisture.

“Animal manure can make a big difference to soil moisture and soil structure, reducing the risk to farm productivity in a drying climate.

“With the advent of industrialised agriculture, livestock and crops have become separated, turning animal manure into a pollutant and depriving crops of ready fertiliser.”

Now, Mr McCardel and others like him are helping to close the nutrient loop again.

He said the Pig-Co piggery, just 2 km up the road, had accumulated three years of manure — with no cheap way of offloading it.

And he was just the man to help solve that messy challenge.

“There was about 5000 cubic metres of stored liquid waste in ponds and solid waste piles next to the piggery, and it all needed a home.”

They signed a contract that solved both problems in one hit — Pig-Co was relieved of the risk of environmental contamination and costly removal and Mr McCardel had veritable oceans of cheap fertiliser.

Of course there was a catch — new to the manure business and with 165 ha-plus to cover, Mr McCardel had to spend considerable funds before he started thinking about savings.

He bought a slurry tanker and a truck-and-dog. He hired an excavator and front-end loader, and several more truck-and-dog drivers, and got stuck into shifting his semi-matured pig manure down the road to his farm, Malabar.

In all it cost Mr McCardel about $30 000 to transport and $20 000 to spread on the property.

But just have a look at the results.

In 2018 he applied 30 tonne/ha, turning it into a small but impressive oat crop, and then top-dressed his pasture at 5 tonne/ha, giving him the only crop in the district to be baled in a low rainfall year.

“We grew two successful oat crops last year without any conventional fertiliser,” he said.

“It clearly goes much further, is organic and also environmentally much friendlier, improving soil quality each year, bringing back worms, birds and wildlife.

“Even better, the water-holding capacity of the soil has doubled; you can feel it and you can see it — the soil has come back to life.

“The diversity of the grasses has also increased and the rootstock depth has improved dramatically, and that’s why we can now stand the drought when neighbouring properties can’t so well.

“We are now baling six rolls of round bales per acre and still have more than doubled our stocking rate.

“The stock are loving it, shoulder deep in phalaris, and the birds are back in numbers. One agronomist even brings his clients to view my pasture.”

And he’s not the only one saying it.

Mr McCardel now markets the manure to a growing list of clients, into everything from dairies and orchards to cropping farmers and hobby farmers, "who are all seeking to improve the biology of their farms and seek a more competitively priced product”.

He said pig manure solved multiple issues, including improved soil biology, cheap fertiliser, improved pasture and carbon capture, with excellent NPK. “What more do you need?”

He also said the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Futures program researched a range of practical ways farmers might reduce their carbon emissions, including manuring. The results of the research suggest:

● Agriculture accounts for about 14 per cent of Australia’s emissions, with about five per cent of that coming from animal manure.

● Lower manure application rates and incorporating manure into soils can cut emissions while lifting farm productivity.

● Composting and pelletising, rather than stockpiling or spreading, raw animal manures can reduce emissions.

● The use of sorbers (insoluble materials used to recover liquids) can improve crop yield while decreasing nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas) and ammonia emissions.

● Storing effluent for shorter times in ponds and covering manure stockpiles can reduce emissions by up to 88 per cent.