Weeds by definition are undesirable, but Burdekin cane growers are using the unwanted plants to their benefit.

Working with the NQ Dry Tropics Waterways, Wetlands and Coasts team, five farmers are turning aquatic weeds sourced from local creeks into compostto improve soil health and crop

Soil Land Food agro-ecologist David Hardwick has been contracted to guide the growers through the composting process, and said the aim is to turn problem weeds into a valuable on-farm resource, through cost-effective means, while controlling weeds in waterways.

“My role is to show farmers how to make compost on-farm using low-cost, local resources that can be used in their soil for production benefits and soil health benefits,” Mr Hardwick said.

“Farmers are hesitant to use compost because of the price, and the cost of freight is an additional barrier.

“The approach being trialled is a fermentation compost, also known as a minimum or no-turn compost.

“Fermentation is where you mix your ingredients and add a bacterial inoculum to the compost heap, and then cover it to allow it to compost in a low-oxygen environment.”

The approach is different from a normal turned compost, in that it uses less resources, time, water and machinery to achieve a good-quality compost.

Growers are turning problem weeds into a valuable on-farm resource.

 Growers are turning problem weeds into a valuable on-farm resource.

Third-generation farmer Gary Spotswood is participating in the trial. After experimenting with compost for a few years, he said he was keen to trial a static compost pile.

“The idea of utilising everything that you have in your backyard such as water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds, is not only practical in terms of producing your own compost, but potentially will also be cost effective,” Mr Spotswood said.

“Being organic farmers, traceability is critical. We need to justify what product we use, and how and when we use it.

“Using a locally-sourced natural resource to convert into a high-quality compost is appealing. It means potentially reducing our use of conventional organic fertilisers and also reducing costs.”

The composting process will take about five months, and will be trialled on a range of crops.