BENEDICT TEMBO Chisamba
ZAMBEEF Products look set to halve the amount it spends on fertiliser at its Chisamba farm this year, thanks to a new environmentally-friendly organic composting system.
The agribusiness giant currently spends around US$1 million a year on chemical fertilisers at its Huntley Farm.
But this year, the company decided to halve its fertiliser bill by using its unique advantage of having farm waste to compost into organic fertiliser.
The company is replacing some of the synthetic fertiliser with compost fertiliser and will consequently improve the fertility of the soil.
â€œZambeef is continuously looking at new ideas and innovations to reduce input costs and improve productivity. Composting of the animal waste we have available is a natural solution that is both good for the environment and our bottom line,â€ said Zambeefâ€™s abattoir and processing general manager Ryan Crause, who is in charge of ensuring this scheme is a success.
A â€˜windrow compostingâ€™ system is being adopted to make the organic fertiliser by piling organic waste in long rows and regularly turning it to control temperature, add or remove moisture and, improve oxygen content, explained Mr Crause, who is applying techniques that he developed while previously working for a large-scale vegetable agribusiness.
â€œThere are many advantages. One of them is that compost buffers the soil, neutralising both acid and alkaline soils, bringing pH levels to the optimum range for nutrient availability to the plants. It is also less expensive and, if you make your own compost, it is free,â€ he added.
While chemical fertilisers contain all the nutrients crops need, they can easily be washed away by irrigation and rain water.
Organic fertilisers, meanwhile, enhance soils by increasing the water and nutrient retention capacity due to the high level of organic matter in the compost. The resulting micro-organisms in the soil will also produce a good feeding base and create a stable soil structure.
Due to the resulting high moisture retention capacity, the amount of water needed for irrigation can be reduced substantially – saving Zambeef on the amount it spends on irrigation water.
Mr Crause said the cumulative effect of these advantages over time mean that Zambeef will be able to increase its yields at Huntley Farm.
While organic composting has numerous advantages, there are some challenges.
The biggest difficulty is regulating its temperature when making the compost. Chicken manure contains high urea nitrogen levels while hay has a high carbon content, both of which heat up the compost. If the temperature is not regulated well, the organic fertiliser could burn the roots of the crops when it is applied.
In order to prevent this from happening, Mr Crause advises that if the manure gets too hot, it needs to be turned and a small amount of water added to drop the temperature.
Apart from reducing the amount it spends on fertilisers, Zambeef will feed the nation in an environmentally sustainable way.
Zambeef has the largest row cropping operations in Africa with 23,515 hectares planted during the summer and winter seasons producing around 120,000 tonnes of maize, soyabeans, barley and wheat at its farms in Chisamba, Mpongwe, Chiawa and Sinazongwe. The group has approximately 8,120 hectares of irrigated and 8,480 hectares of rain-fed arable land available for planting each year.