Making use of what has long been regarded as "waste" by-products of fish processing and poultry operations appears to be a benefit for vegetable crop production and the environment, says the regional co-ordinator of a federal/provincial program designed to raise awareness about agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Compost made from the so-called waste of fish processing and poultry operations and added to the soil appears to produce a 50 to 60 percent increase in vegetable crop yields, compared to crops grown with conventional fertilizer, says Ann Marie Whelan, an agrologist and Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) field co-ordinator for the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP).
"Compost appears to produce a range of benefits, not only in the quantity but quality of the crops," she says, referring to results of field demonstrations, comparing yields of cabbage and rutabaga crops grown on David Dwyer's vegetable farm near Shearstown on Newfoundland's Conception Bay.
"In a demonstration completed in 2005, rutabaga and cabbage yields in the Dwyer project were up nearly 60 percent, and the produce had better size and appearance over crops produced with chemical fertilizer," says Whelan. "This project is showing farmers there are opportunities to reduce costs, improve yields and also benefit the environment."
The compost project is one of dozens of demonstrations across the country supported in part by the national GHGMP. Launched in 2003, the program is designed to demonstrate and raise awareness of a wide range of practices that not only benefit production but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment. The soil sector of the GHGMP program is administered nationally by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC). For a full feature report on the project visit the SCCC website at www.soilcc.ca
Blending a combination of crab shells and offal and poultry manure - the by-products of local farming and fishing activities - produces a nutrient-rich soil amendment that reduces reliance on chemical fertilizer. Soil testing, plant tissue testing and compost nutrient analysis were used to determine the proper compost application rates.
"Replacing chemical fertilizer with compost reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the manufacture of fertilizer. Burning fuel contributes to greenhouse gas emissions," says Whelan. "And better matching nutrients to crop requirements reduces the risk of fertilizer over-application. Using poultry manure and crab processing waste in compost reduces the impact of these materials on the environment."
The compost comparison was carried out on a one-acre plot that was just part of Dwyer's 70-acre vegetable farm on Newfoundland's east coast about 80 kilometres from St. John's. Dwyer produces a range of crops including carrots, cabbage, rutabaga and beets, which are sold at the farm gate and through local retailers.
"These are dramatic yield increases in the 55 to 60 percent range," says Whelan. "The vegetables also appeared to have better size, color and less blight and less clubroot, making for a superior product over crops grown with chemical fertilizer."
Whelan also noted in a region where drought, in recent years, has reduced yields and wiped out crops, fields treated with compost had improved moisture retention and were better able to withstand the dry conditions.
While reducing crop input costs and increasing yields are important economic benefits, compost also has a proven track record for increasing soil organic matter, which improves soil quality and carbon sequestration in the long term.
For more information, contact:
Ann Marie Whelan
GHGMP Field Co-ordinator
Phone: (709) 747- 13781
Doug McKell, Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, Sask.
Phone: (306) 695-4212