Australia has experimented with biosolids solutions over the past 20 years and in the process has earned an excellent global reputation for biosolids management.
Currently in Australia over 80% of total biosolids are applied to land as fertilizer. (In contrast, while land application of biosolids in Canada is growing, it currently amounts to about 33%). How Australia arrived at such a high rate is an example for other countries to follow, as it did not happen overnight.
Although disposal of biosolids in landfills is no longer an acceptable option in Australia, it once was. Additionally all but one of a number of Australian incinerators (used for burning of biosolids in the 1970s and 1980s) have closed down. In addition, a process designed to convert biosolids to diesel-grade oil in Western Australia was discontinued in 2001.
With these alternative solutions not working, Australia committed itself to biosolids land application. In Western Australian soils are generally nutrient deficient or acidic, and marked improvements in soils and crop yields have been observed following biosolids application. Biosolids agricultural land application is also widely practiced in South Australia and farmers there have reported the benefit of a biosolid application lasts for three years.
Research trials in Victoria have shown the benefit of using biosolids as a soil conditioner, which enhances soil structure and fertility levels. Not surprisingly, reports indicate a very high demand among Australian farmers for biosolids for use as fertilizer.
So why is taking a look at Australia’s approach to biosolids important at this time?
Recently, Canada was invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks. This is viewed by most Canadians as providing our economy with strategically important access for Canadian goods and services in these thriving and growing Asian-Pacific markets.
The major concern is that such a free trade arrangement will likely require that Canada’s agricultural trade barriers be reduced or eliminated, enabling better access for example by Australian farmers to Canadian food markets. This open market could challenge Canadian agricultural competitiveness. Substituting biosolids for at least part of chemical fertilizer usage will give farmers a substantial fertilizer cost saving. So once trade barriers are removed, the greater proportional use of biosolids in Australia agriculture as compared to Canada, places our farmers at a real competitive disadvantage. By incorporating biosolids into their fertilizer application strategies, Canadian farmers can better defend their domestic markets while expanding their export markets.
Author: Owen Ward, Ph.D.
Dr. Ward is a founder of Lystek Inc and a co-inventor of its patented technology and is a Professor at University of Waterloo. He is a former president of the Canadian Society of Microbiologists and a former director of the US based Society of Industrial Microbiology. With 35 years industrial and academic experience in bioprocess research and development, Dr. Ward has published over 200 papers and authored 6 books in different areas of biotechnology.