Waste from intensive animal industries is usually seen as just that, waste.

Key points:

  • An imported machine pumps effluent below the soil as a natural fertiliser
  • Recycling nutrients in animal waste is a key way to boost food production
  • Synthetic fertiliser prices are at record highs, so one pig farmer has sought a new approach

An imported $1 million machine is unlocking the power of pig poo by pumping into the soil.

“There’s really not a lot of downside to putting your manure into the ground,” owner Mark Young said.

It is a simple enough principle, but the technology involved is far from basic and is helping this farmer improve his soil and reduce his use of synthetic fertilisers.

A slurry tanker is driving through a paddock with a windmill in the background.

Implements pulled at the back inject manure beneath the soil where crops need it.(ABC Southern Queensland: Jon Daly)

The power of poo

Mr Young owns an 8,000-head piggery and swathes of irrigation land near the Queensland town of Kingaroy, 220 kilometres north-west of Brisbane.

For years, he has been trying to find a way to profit from his pigs’ poo.

“The pigs have to do what the pigs do, so the manure just comes every day,” Mr Young said.

Prior to importing the tanker, the effluent from the piggery was pumped out through irrigators.

Sharon Young is kneeling down, touching a pig.

Sharon Young says the tanker helps reduce odour and keeps the neighbours happy.(ABC Southern Queensland: Jon Daly)

But that was not a hit with the neighbours, according to piggery manager Sharon Young.

“A lot of nutrients was going up in the sky, the wind was a problem, and we don’t want to cause a nuisance to our neighbours or the general public if there’s odour floating about in the air,” she said.

Ms Young said the tanker offered a “win-win” to both the piggery and the farm’s irrigated crop production.

“Rather than it just sitting in a pond evaporating, instead of a line on my cash flow [that reads] ‘fertiliser’, that line will significantly drop, so there will be massive savings, especially if the cost of fertiliser goes up,” she said.

The cost of synthetic fertilisers has reached record highs this year.

Mr Young estimates one full tanker of effluent is equivalent to $2,000 worth of synthetic fertilisers.

A slurry tanker is driving through a paddock with a windmill in the background.

Pig effluent contains nutrients and microbes essential to healthy plant growth.(ABC Southern Queensland Jon Daly)

Closing the nutrient loop

Slurry tankers, as they are known, are not new in Australia, but few can efficiently inject effluent into the soil at scale.

The Italian-made tanker has a capacity of 30,000 litres and a vacuum pump that can fill it to the brim in a matter of minutes.

Implements towed behind it inject effluent 20-30 centimetres into the soil.

The whole set-up, including the tractor and importation, cost Mr Young about $1 million.

He said it would quickly earn its money back.

“We’re putting it under the ground where we should,” Mr Young said.

A slurry tanker is driving through a paddock with a windmill in the background.

The Young family piggery produces 40 million litres of pig effluent a year.(ABC Southern Queensland: Jon Daly)

“We’re putting it down at the plant roots and we’re capturing all the microbial activity.”

The broader agriculture industry is also taking notice of this novel approach.

University of Queensland tropical agronomist Mike Bell said agriculture needed to find ways to return nutrients back to the soil.

“At the same time, our soil resource is being slowly degraded by some agricultural practices and the nutrient removal that has been going on in the crop removal, so we’ve got to look at new practices to maintain and improve productivity.”

A slurry tanker is driving through a paddock with a windmill in the background.

Mark Young says the tanker is a win-win for his piggery and irrigated crops.(ABC Southern Queensland: Jon Daly)

Future-proofing fertilisers

Mr Young’s farm sits in a Great Barrier Reef Catchment, where fertiliser use is coming under increasing scrutiny.

The declining water quality and health of the Great Barrier Reef has been partly attributed to on-farm run-off of fertilisers into local waterways.

“We are not going to be allowed to spread artificial fertiliser on top of the ground like we have in the past,” he said.

Mr Young said finding new technologies such as his slurry tanker could improve fertiliser efficiency and reduce run-off.

In addition to their own crops, the Young family plans to contract the tanker to other piggeries and farmers.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

This $1m machine is making the most out of pig poo
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