This is sponsored content for Guano Australia.
These days it's not just those farmers targeting organic or biodynamic certification for their crops who are moving away from synthetic chemical fertilisers.
A combination of factors, from growing pressure and demand from consumers for cleaner and greener produce, to increased understanding of the potential opportunities for boosting soil health and crop yield, is driving more and more agribusiness operators to investigate alternatives to synthetic chemical fertiliser (SCF).
"By and large the biggest demand we are seeing these days is coming from conventional farmers," said John Jashar, founder of Guano Australia, the 28-year-old local business that specialises in chemical-free organic fertiliser products, sourced from seabird droppings. This year the business's sales across Australia have jumped by 50 per cent, making it the biggest season in its history.
"Our business predominantly started off with the organic and biodynamic industry, with progressive farmers who were moving forward and away from SCF. But now more and more other farmers are asking how they can reduce their reliance on them.
"You have younger farmers taking over the family farms and they're looking for the way forward to grow more productive and resilient crops, to put life back into their soils, to become better farmers for the future."
Agronomist Robert Drewitt - who works closely with Guano Australia's customers - said that as well as becoming increasingly aware of how reliance on SCF is impacting their soil's health, farmers are also questioning their current fertiliser programs after seeing application rates for the same crop yields continuing to increase over time.
"A big driver [behind the uptake of SCF alternatives] is that recognition of the increasing amount of chemical fertiliser farmers are finding they need to apply to maintain yields. Australian farmers - especially because of the drought - are looking back and reflecting on past results and then doing their sums on the cost of inputs," said Mr Drewitt, whose experience includes 15 years in agribusiness finance.
"They're also questioning why their soils aren't naturally mineralising or there's nitrification going on, and realising they need to look at other strategies to bring back some of the other crucial elements that aren't provided by chemical fertilisers, like calcium, silica, and trace minerals like magnesium, copper and zinc."
Mr Drewitt said making the transition to non-SCF could be daunting for farmers not experienced in using them as they try to change their crop input paradigm. He said it required some structured short and long-term management strategies, and a shift in the way they counted their fertiliser costs and quantities.
"The issue of cost is a major driver in farm decision making. The application of nutrients supplied by non-SCF is different in many respects to that of SCF. For example, the use of citric soluble phosphorus versus water soluble fertiliser or elemental sulphur versus chemical sulphur require different rates and possibly different timing of application.
"Usually the total number of units applied by non-SCF can be lower than that supplied by SCF because of how these elements are used by the plant. Another factor in costings is that higher number of elements you're getting with the non-SCF compared to SCF - that all needs to be taken into account when assessing a dollar per hectare cost."
Confusion is one of the major hurdles stopping many farmers from beginning a transition away from their reliance on chemical fertilisers towards more sustainable models.
"Moving away from 100 per cent reliance on chemical fertilisers isn't that difficult. But it's the confusion in taking the first step and then planning the transition by either a product substitution or product blending approach to solve short term issues so you can continue producing a profitable crop while working on a longer plan to manage soil health and crop resilience," Mr Drewitt said.
"One of the tips I give farmers who want to dip their toe in is to go to their worst paddock and start with that. Try to lift your bottom 20 per cent of your soils and try to lift them by 20 per cent. That's where they'll get the best results, the quickest results, and then start to take that knowledge and progress it across their farm. It's not something you have to wait very long to see the benefits."
This is sponsored content for Guano Australia.
The story Australian agribusinesses have eyes on a future less reliant on synthetic chemical fertilisers first appeared on Queensland Country Life.