Introducing biofertilisers to a no-till system

July 9, 2021

Q&A with Fraser Pogue

When did you start using biofertilisers?

We started using a commercially available liquid about nine years ago.

What prompted you to start using them and continue using them?

We first started using them to reduce our use of synthetic fertilisers. The first time we tried it in faba beans it worked really well. It was pretty staggering — faba beans really don’t like some diseases, chocolate spot for example, and before we started using bioferts we were using four fungicides. Yet with the bioferts, we could still grow them without fungicide (and continue to do so). We are still getting good results – they work really well in keeping pests and diseases away and they help create a healthy, high-yielding plant.

Why did you start making your own bioferts?

I attended a Landcare workshop and learnt a lot about making your own and got pretty excited about it. Grant Sims and I were so enthused that we got someone to come to the farm to teach us a bit more about making them and since then I’ve been making my own. For me it’s more than helping grow good crops, it’s about having control of my farm. Making my own is another step towards being independent – not relying on other people and taking control of my own system.

What role do they play in your system?

Rather than using fungicides, insecticides and synthetic starter fertiliser, we have found bioferts can replace them. So rather than doing something negative to our soil and plant, we are doing something that is going to make them healthier. I believe the trace mineral bioferts we use are a great way to get the minerals into the plant.

What do you make?

There are a number of different ones you can make depending on what you want them for. I use mostly fermented cow manure with minerals added in (multi-mineral fertiliser, fermented with biology). This process metabolises and collects the minerals to make them more available to soils and plants. The microbes excrete different metabolites – some of them act as growth promoters, some protect against bad micro-organisms. We have a multi-mineral mix with 12 different minerals.

What are some of the things to be mindful of when making them?

They are not just about drip-feeding crops with nutrients. You can do that if you want, but it’s not going to be balanced for the plant if it’s not calling upon those nutrients. If you’re just shoving them into the plant it’s going to have a different result to the plant asking for them. Understanding the relationship between micro-organisms and the plant is really important. Once you know a bit more about it you can tailor-make the bioferts to best suit what you need. If you have low levels in one mineral, you can then increase that mineral. If you really like one type of biology you can increase that micro-organism. The manure needs to be relatively fresh and we are fortunate we have a plentiful supply.

If your soils are functioning well, why do you need bioferts?

I know our underlying soil fertility/mineral levels are pretty good and the bioferts are really just to make sure that plants have access to them and that they’re available in the growing season to boost the plants. The microbes and their metabolites in the biofert also help boost and protect the plant growth.

How long can you store your bioferts?

It depends on what sort you are making. We mostly make the multi-mineral cow manure ferment. When this product is finished the pH is around 4 or below, which means it is acid enough to store for many months, if not years. The aerobic microbe cultures we make only seem to last for a few weeks.

How do you apply?

I’ve really simplified my system so my foliar program is a liquid urea, bioferts and a humate. The mix that goes into the furrow is the same as the foliar program, only I use UAN rather than liquid urea and add specific microbes: free living nitrogen-fixing bacteria, phosphorus solubilising bacteria, and beneficial fungi.

These microbes have specific roles. It’s similar to the way people apply ‘worm juice’ – we’re just a bit more specific about what we put in. I think worm juice is a good product, as are many others on the commercial market. You’ve just got to be careful that you are getting good value for money.

What sort of yield increases are you getting?

It is hard to say what agronomic benefits are just from the bioferts because we take a whole ecosystem approach. You can’t isolate one thing and say it’s resulting in that amount of extra yield because for me, it’s about a whole system functioning really well. That’s where this way of farming comes down to intuition, which doesn’t fit so well with people who are trial and replication-based. It’s extremely difficult to isolate one thing and test it because this disregards everything else that’s happening in the system. What I can say is the bioferts definitely help with making plants more resilient to pest disease and weather extremes.