By Dianne Mauloni
Michael Ottone and his brother Peter have been undergoing revolutionary changes on their pineapple, watermelon and cane crops.
They are using local soil flora to make a special home-brew compost tea and drastically reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and fungicides.
The brothers are partners with their parents on the Farm situated 25kms from Tully and were faced with the challenge of phytophthora, a ‘water mold’ which can thrive in a climate such as the Wet Tropics. It has the potential to be extremely destructive to crops causing ‘root rot’, and pineapples are particularly susceptible.
Michael and Peter have found a way of managing the pathogen in their pineapple and cane crops, whilst keeping their ‘organic’ status.
“We attended some training funded by Terrain NRM on how to make our own biological and mineral inputs and apply them to our farm,” said Michael.
“After having great success with using our brew on pineapples, we trialled our tea on a small area of cane with mixed soils. We then gained the confidence to apply it across more than 100ha of cane with great success.”
Trichoderma is a naturally occurring fungus in the soil which is being injected into the Ottone’s farm through the tea brew. Michael and Peter agree that their compost tea is a cheap way of delivering Trichoderma to the soil whilst increasing bacteria and fungal mass and diversity around the plant roots.
The brew is made with a range of mineral inputs such as molasses and yeast, along with locally-occurring native micro-organisms that enhance natural competitiveness in the soil and make it difficult for phytophthora to survive.
Michael said, “The compost and fungi from the farm has been there for thousands of years and is acclimatised to the area. By incorporating this in the brew, native microbes are put back into the soil which break down trash and is low cost. The brew also improves the water holding capability of the soil by adding organic matter.”
It is anticipated that 33kg/ha of nitrogen reduction will be achieved as a result of the compost tea application with 33kg/ha of biological nitrogen replacement.
Terrain’s CEO Carole Sweatman said, “The Ottone brothers are a fantastic example of farmers thinking outside the square to make ends meet whilst fostering a healthy environment. These guys are taking on a brave and unique approach to farming, which considers biological science and encourages natural processes to maintain the health of their soil, plants and waterways.
“Fewer chemical inputs benefit our waterways and reef, which is what we are encouraging farmers to consider through a range of programs including the Australian government’s Reef Programme.”
Michael said, “We love fishing, we want the water quality running off the farm to be healthy. We want to look after it.”