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Compost production was the glue that pulled the diverse group of producers, regulators and allied industry people together from Victoria, NSW and South Australia to tour with a number of WA locals. The group landed with a clear list of objectives. These were to help motivate WA producers to set up a local branch of AORA -Australian Organic Recyclers Association to replace the inactive Compost WA industry body. Also on the agenda - to get information on new technologies for the industry, to discuss the vital role of marketing and how this can contribute to industry success as well as encouraging cross border networking.

Two formal gatherings were organised. The first at SMRC featured a rundown on the reasons for forming a WA chapter of AORA. A good turnout of local producers responded to the invitation to hear the story. The second event was put together and funded through Rebecca Brown of WMAA. This was both a networking opportunity as well as a speaking forum where some of the Victorian regulators, Pete Wadewitz from South Australia and a special guest in Matthew Warnken of Corporate Carbon spoke. Matthew talked about the work he is doing to make composted product part of the Carbon Farming Initiative which, if successful, will enhance financial returns to all compost producers.

Visits included the South Metropolitan Regional Council facility at Canning Vale. Here we received a comprehensive update on the management of mixed waste streams from 6 local government councils. SMRC have become extremely knowledgable with odour abatement procedures and technology and can be considered a leader in this field.

We were given a brief chat, at a roadside stop on the way up the freeway, about the work done in creating manufactured soils for the Perth-Bunbury Highway. “Show me your batters” was a comment I heard after the success of the mulch in halting erosion on the sloping edges of the freeway project was explained.

At the Nambeelup facility C-Wise staff gave a presentation on the new organisational structure and marketing plans aimed at breathing life into the company mission - “A world where soil carbon is valued”. 2015 The international Year of Soil was highlighted as an opportunity to change attitudes about the role of composted product in repairing and reversing the loss of soil fertility across the country.

A number of delegates commented in the feedback notes about the high quality and low levels of contamination of the C-Wise product on the production pad. One significant contributor to this quality, the Mobile Aerated Floor technology (MAF) was in action at the facility where it assists in controlled composting from a smaller footprint than windrow systems and also helps to mitigate odour issues.

On Friday morning the team headed off to the massive Lark Hill Sportsplex to hear superintendent Paul Smith talk of his successful experiences battling Sting Nematodes in the beach sands of Port Kennedy. Instead of nematicides which are both expensive and highly toxic Paul used a mature composted product. Not only did this solve the nematode problem it also helped with water management issues at the site.

Next stop was Eclipse Resources in Kwinana where managing director Ron Sippe showed us over a modern day recycling and remediation centre in a very large sand mine. Many could not get over the fact that there was a lack of sand for developing WA’s southern suburbs due to high water tables. Eclipse treats acid sulphate soils and also processes green waste into a range of mulches, soil improvers and lightweight soil mixes for roof gardens and resort planter boxes.

Ellement Produce's vegetable farm in Hammond Park was judged another highlight of the tour. David Ellement, who has held a number of executive roles in Vegetables WA and the wine industry has gone back to the land with his family and have developed a niche crop - leeks. They supply 80% of the WA market dealing with both the Coles and Woolworths chains. David showed how banding compost in between rows of leeks gave him greater control over watering, the critical factor in his business. He pulled out his mobile phone app to inform us of the evaporation loss of moisture for the previous day, that he had to replace on the day of our visit. The moisture buffer afforded by compost was a key benefit to horticultural markets, he said.

Richgro have taken a major step in resource recovery with their new Anaerobic Digester. Both Geoff and son Tim Richards led us on a tour of the Jandakot site. The rapidly escalating price of electricity was the motivating factor in this pioneering installation. Methane gas from the digester provides fuel for electricity production for use on the site and to supply the grid. One of the byproducts - heat is used to assist a new breed of blueberry to crop in early winter - 5 months before traditional crops come onto the market. This makes for a high value crop.

The BioVision mixed source resource recovery facility at Neerabup produces a fine textured young compost that is used in agriculture and bioremediation.

Feedback from delegates indicated that the key outcomes from the tour included the sharing of best practises in the industry and the opportunities offered by networking activities.

The next step in this process is to encourage WA stakeholders to step forward and propose a plan of action ideally leveraging the International Year of Soil as a catalyst.