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Nutratherm
Cleaner Production - Biological Soil Conditioners

Nutratherm produces biological soil conditioners for crops, turf grass and other applications. These are tailored to soil conditions and are applied as part of a system to enhance the long term soil fertility rather than to achieve a short term fertility fix. A key product feature is the use of basaltic rock to enhance soil structural properties and provide trace elements and paramagnetic properties. Besides recycling waste biological material, biological conditioning allows users to greatly reduce the use of chemical soil conditioners and fungicides. Golf courses have been saving up to $35,000 a year in fungicide use alone and some remarkable results have been achieved in high profile situations. The company's motto is ' we never treat soils like dirt '.

Background

Nutratherm is a family-owned business manufacturing a range of biological soil conditioners used in a system that promotes healthy, premium quality crops and turf grass. Its products are used for sports ground, golf courses, agricultural and other applications. 

The company has a staff of 4 and started in July 1996 with the aim of giving farmers and turf managers of all kinds a realistic, environmentally friendly, long term approach to managing their enterprise. It saw a need for a system allowing reduction in the use of chemical conditioners and fungicides.

Since then it has researched information, carried out tests, monitored results and been prepared to try unorthodox and innovative approaches in order to understand a natural but complex process. It now produces a range of soil conditioners for a range of applications, using bacteria from the Berry Bank Piggery  sludge digester to maintain its bacterial base (see Berry Bank Case Study on this same Environment Australia Web Site). Basalt rock is mixed with the conditioner to enhance structural properties.

The Process and Product

To understand the Nutratherm system requires an understanding of the principles of a working biological soil.

Soil is a natural complex of organic minerals, inorganic minerals, air, water and living organisms supplying nutrients, moisture and anchorage for plants. All quality, fertile soils need these things together with paramagnetic energy (see below). The function of paramagnetic energy is still uncertain but it is believed to oscillate the microbes and plant cells and enhance plant growth. The living organisms have a specific functions and are essential to plant life and ultimately all life - if they were to fail, all plant, animal and human life would cease. Together they form a system for disintegrating and transforming organic matter and include: 

All Nutratherm materials contain living organisms which have been through the humification process to produce humus. Humus is the last process of the breakdown of dead plant/animal matter, planktonites and micro-organisms. These are attacked by the living micro-organisms to digest and decompose continuously until they reach a humic compound state . This state is then broken down into three final products which are humic acid, humin and fulvic acid which are carbon building blocks. The presence of carbon determines the population size and vigour of the soil biology since carbon makes up 50% of soil organic matter. Compared to most types of inorganic compound these materials do not separate soil microbe populations and this speeds up the soil's metabolism, giving greater numbers of micro-organisms and increasing their activity.

Products and production

Nutratherm collects materials rich in minerals, organic carbons, sugars carbohydrates, humate, humic and fulvic and amino acids, including fish emulsion and kelp.  The materials then go through a mechanical process to reduce their size. They are then biologically digested/humified through both aerobic and anaerobic multi-stage processes. This allows the materials to be totally digested yet remain biologically active and contain bacteria. Nutratherm has a base material called GR-6 which is high in organic carbon, digested organic matter  and biologicals in a heavy liquid form. Other materials are added to meet specific nutritional needs.

The Nutratherm system accepts that from time to time a pesticide may be applied to the turf. For this situation there is a microbial product (GB Typhoon) containing microbes and  organic carbon to stimulate and re-establish the microbial population after a chemical has been applied. At renovation, an organic meal (MS Supercharge) is available to boost carbon levels. Bio Cal and Bio Kit meet the needs for different soil types.

Having a high micro-organism population has a number of benefits. Soil microbes granulate soil and aerate it, so facilitating the infusion of air and water and improving drainage. Microbes also stimulate the rebuilding of soil faster than other methods such as crop rotation and mulching.

Basaltic rock dust is added to provide structure and trace elements, and improve the soil's pH, water retention and microbial activity. Together these attributes improve the humus complex and plant growth.

All of the materials are non-toxic.

The role and importance of rock dust

Based on worldwide research* of the literature, trials and experience, basaltic rock dust with higher paramagnetic intensity is very beneficial for soil quality, particularly in Australia where trace elements within most soils have been depleted by the weathering process. The trace elements promote microbial activity and are gradually transformed into a soluble form for uptake by the plant roots.

While a low soil pH can be increased almost instantaneously with the application of lime, such a fast response is detrimental to microbial activity. Artificial fertilisers are predominantly acidic and when applied in conjunction with lime produce an even more detrimental impact on the soil than only applying lime.

There are various types of basaltic rock dust, geologically with respect to content of trace elements, and with respect to degree of paramagnetism, or degree of attraction by a magnetic field. Trials are continuing by Boral* and others** on blending different types to ensure optimum nutrient levels,  and on such matters as application techniques and pelletisation. Rock dust with higher paramagnetic activity has been found to significantly improve plant growth.

Application to soil

A Nutratherm System is not about using a series of products for mixing, adding water to, and spraying on and achieve instant results. It is not something to add to a synthetic fertiliser program. In the early stages, Nutratherm achieved inconsistent and poor results with single product applications, and  realised that for the materials to achieve their maximum effect, they must be used in combination, synergistically, within a carefully structured system, and applied over time

Nutrient deficiencies are identified by a comprehensive soil test and  corrections are made using the appropriate material. There are no set application rates as all soils are different. The soil analysis gives a starting guide and results are monitored according to customers' needs.

The system is designed to feed the soil micro-organisms with digested organic matter to promote the soil's fertility whilst in a living biological environment. when this occurs the soil is functioning to its maximum productivity and is in harmonic balance. It is intended to work on the long term fertility of the soil rather than promote short term plant growth. Turf needs nutrition every day to strengthen it. The Nutratherm System helps the soil to continually compost organic matter into food for the plant. 

Though the materials have their own microbial population its unlikely that they will all survive. The native microbes are the most beneficial  for specific conditions. the Nutratherm system triggers the native populations to become active and overcome the introduced species. They are thus encouraged to their potential.

Cleaner production Initiatives

A number of golf turf managers have adopted programs to enhance the biological activities in their soils. Respected and experience turf managers have been increasingly questioning the logic of the accepted and traditional reliance on synthetic nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) fertiliser applications along with frequent applications of fungicides to combat disease outbreaks.

Various golf clubs in NSW and Victoria adopted the Nutrathem biological program from mid 1998. Others have included a range of sports grounds and stadia.

Benefits

The results of one such experience were reviewed in the NSW Golf Superintendents Newsletter. Prior to the program the Poa dominant greens of the Long Reach Golf Club were easily stressed by heat and humidity and required fungicide application every 7-10 days. with the new program, chemical applications were reduced by more than 80%, root depth was increased and there was a dramatic improvement in the bent grass which outcompeted the poa. 

Similar results were achieved at Green Acres Golf Club in Melbourne where the program was in place from mid 1998. the results of soil tests show the improvements in total cation and organic carbon levels without any input of synthetic materials. There has also been a significant reduction in the need for chemicals because of a stronger and less stress-prone turf.

  5th green 18th Green
Date CEC (meq%) Organic carbon CEC (meq%) Organic carbon
24/8/98 2.7 0.8 5.1 0.5
13/04/99 5.5 1.3 12.0 0.5
6/12/99 5.9 1.1 18.2 1.2

Major renovations were undertaken before the Ericsson Masters 2001. As part of the course's master plan, turf manager John Spencer had decided to create undulations in the landscape on the fourth and fifth holes The complete reconstruction of the fourth hole drew criticism because the green created was larger than what was previously there. However the hole still rated the sixth hardest for the tournament. John Spencer stated:

'On the green itself we did a complete reconstruction using  Nutratherm's  Paramagnetic rock. It's actually rock dust. I'm not an expert in it but I've never seen a root system go down like it or develop that quickly. Because of it we managed to open the hole, albeit only one week before the tournament. It was remarkable' ***

For golf courses, the savings in fungicide use alone has been in the range of $25,000-35,000 a year. Other benefits have included improved staff productivity in not having to handle and apply fungicides.

The benefits of the system need to be considered not just in savings compared to conventional fertilisers and fungicides, but also in terms of the wider business benefits, for example allowing major sporting venues to operate effectively, and producing sustainable soils and turfs.

Cleaner production incentive

The initiative has been driven by Nutratherm's aim of finding a better, more sustainable solution to increasing and maintaining soil fertility. For customers the particular benefits have been reduced need to handle chemicals, and enhance success in their activities.

Further developments

The success of Nutratherm's approach is continually attracting new customers. For example Southern Farmers Systems Ltd has been looking for a missing link in its search for soil health and plant yield and is now undertaking wheat trials at its experimental (trailing) farm near Geelong.

All but two of the major rugby pitches in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra use Nutratherm system as it helps to provide the strongest and safest surface  for rugby and soccer.

Nutratherm is continually refining and improving its system based on its own experience and external research, especially into the use of rock dust.

Contact

Terry Farrell
Director
Nutratherm Australia Pty Ltd
1 Greenview Court
Bentleigh East VIC 3165
Ph: 61 3 9579 0310
Fax: 61 3 9579 0393
Mobile 0414 569 265

Date of implementation: 1996-2001.
Date of further initiatives: Ongoing.
Case study prepared: June 2001 by Centre of Excellence in Cleaner Production, Curtin University of Technology.
Date last modified: July 2001.

* Reference: 'Soil Remineralisation with Basaltic Rock Dust in Australia' : A paper by I. Dimitru, A. Zdrilic and A. Azzopardi (Boral Construction Materials) to the 7th Annual Symposium of the International Center for Aggregates Research, April 19-21, 1999, University of Texas at Austin. Contact:  Boral Construction Materials, Wentworth NSW tel 02 9688 9901

** Including the Department of Environmental Biology and Horticulture, University of Technology, Sydney.

***Golf and Sports Turf Australia April/May 2001.