Precision composts will be created by identifying the configurations that produce either unsatisfactory or good results
A novel way of using compost can improve crop yield and deliver significant environmental benefits, according to a new study.
Adopting a Precision Compost Strategy (PCS) in large-scale agriculture can limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by diverting biowaste from landfills, noted the study published in Nature Food September 05, 2022.
It can also enhance agricultural output by improving soil health, the study further noted.
PCS is based on the optimised management of inputs in a field according to crop needs. It requires understanding the characteristics of compost and its interactions with the biophysical settings.
Compost, a carbon-rich fertiliser, is derived from organic materials, livestock manures and other mixed materials. Composting, in general, can improve productivity, sustainability and mitigation of climate change.
It is frequently used to boost crop output and regenerate croplands’ soil organic carbon (SOC). It can also contribute to the transition towards circular agriculture.
However, using different forms of compost in inappropriate biophysical settings can result in significant trade-offs, including unpredictable results for crop yields and SOC and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.
Compost, a frequently generic product that doesn’t focus on particular crop demands or biophysical environments, is at variance with the evolving and diverse global cropping system.
While, precision composts will be created by identifying the configurations that produce either unsatisfactory or good results.
The researchers from the University of Queensland performed a global meta-analysis with over 2,000 observations to determine whether PCS can advance sustainable food production.
The researchers used the response indicators — crop yield, SOC and N2O emissions — to examine compost use, with a view of food security, soil fertility and GHG footprint.
“Instead of relying just on mineral fertilisers, PCS involves supplementing the right type of compost with nutrients to match the needs of soils and crops,” said Susanne Schmidt, Professor at the University of Queensland.
PCS can produce up to 40 per cent more crops than the conventional method. PCS works best in drier and warmer climates and soils with acidic pH and sandy or clay texture, the researchers noted.
“Our research estimated that PCS can boost the annual global production of major cereal crops by 96 million tonnes, or 4 per cent of the current output,” said Schmidt.
This has flow-on effects for consumers by addressing food shortages and price hikes, she added.
A PH-balanced soil can also nourish the organisms that keep soils and crops healthy. In this method, compact and acidic soils are aerated and neutralised to enhance their water-holding capacity and root development.
“A healthy soil also contributes to mitigating climate change by maintaining or increasing its carbon content,” said the Food and Agriculture Organization, in a press note released while observing the International Year of Soils in 2015.
Currently, 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural soil is classified as degraded, with projections that this could rise to 90 per cent by 2050, the researchers noted.
Numerous and diverse farming approaches such as — agroecology, conservation agriculture, organic farming, zero tillage farming and agroforestry — can promote the sustainable management of soils.
Compost and other organic fertilisers, especially those containing — sewage sludge, animal waste and organic residues — must be used and maintained carefully to prevent any negative impacts on the environment, humans, animals and soil health.
Even though using these sources of nutrients is advocated — quality, safety, environmental and biosecurity hazards — related to maintaining and using recycled nutrients should be taken into account. Compost hygiene and safety must be prioritised to prevent contaminants like bacteria.
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