In the interior of Brazil, in rural properties, the manure of animals in paddocks, chicken coops and pigsties has been used to fertilize crops. The material is normally placed in a large hole, to ferment, and later transported to the crops, to help the corn, soy and beans grow.
This family-farming habit, named composting, not always developed by large institutions, is becoming a great concern in the country. And large industrial projects are being turned to the sector.
Brazil already has some organic fertilizer factories – made out of organic raw material like manure and tree bark – and organominerals – like organic inputs and other minerals like phosphorus and potassium.
But this year, after Brazilian agriculture was surprised by the high prices and dearth of chemical fertilizers, new and large projects for industrialization of alternative fertilizers started showing up around the place, headed by farmers or even fostered by the federal government.
The Campos Novos Regional Agricultural Cooperative (Copercampos), in the state of Santa Catarina, opened the doors of its organomineral fertilizer factory in November. BioCoper, as the fertilizer was named, entered the market promising salvation. The factory uses poultry manure, phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium.
Not far from Santa Catarina, in the neighboring Paraná, another project for organomineral fertilizer production is being developed, headed by the National Agroindustrial Cooperative (Coonagro), a central cooperative that includes another 19 agricultural cooperatives in the western region of the state.
The factory from Santa Catarina is a Copercampos initiative, but the Coonagro project arose after talks between the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. Apart from guaranteeing the supply of fertilizers in the country, the government wants to provide a noble end to the manure generated by birds, pigs and cattle. Among the concerns are possible international environmental pressures, as is the case in Europe. Manure, if placed on crops without composting, is a source of pollution.
“If the material is left exposed, on the ground, it liberates nitrous oxide, a pollutant that damages the ozone layer,” explained Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) soil researcher Vinicius Benites.
Pig manure, for example, even causes clay to separate from the soil, resulting in erosion, not to mention the heavy metals it carries that may be transported from the crops to the waters nearby, with the rain. The idea is to stop the manure being used incorrectly, moving towards composting and industrialization.
“If we see how many birds there are in Brazil, the volume of their droppings each day and we multiply one by the other, we will no longer need mineral fertilizers,” said the coordinator of the National Fertilizer Plan, Ali Saab, at the Ministry.
The problem, according to him, is that the material is spread all over Brazil and the cost to bring it all together is high. Therefore, the alternative fertilizer factories are recommended for installation in areas where there are many livestock farms, and where the manure may be collected.
Following the example of its participation in the Coonagro project, the government plans to visit other regions where there are many farms, like the city of Rio Verde, in the state of Goiás, Uberlândia, in Minas Gerais, as well as Nova Mutum and Lucas do Rio Verde, in Mato Grosso.
Saab believes that it is possible to establish another two or three factories in the country, apart from those that area already in development, to produce, in ten years, approximately three million tons of organomineral fertilizers made from manure. The volume represents 15% of all mineral fertilizers used in national agriculture.
Embrapa has already started operating in the field and has developed the necessary technology for those interested in heading a similar project. The coordinator of the area, Benites, explains that the project was developed for use with pork droppings, but that it may be used with other manures.
Copercampos should produce 1,000 tons a month. And Coonagro is considering a factory for 100,000 to one million tons a year.
Good for Pockets and Soil
Copercampos had been studying the possibility of producing organomineral fertilizer for ten years. But it was the fertilizer crisis that started the run for production of the new fertilizer.
“With the fertilizer crisis, the price of phosphates rising very much, we sought an alternative, a cheaper source of phosphates for farmers,” said the technical director for Inputs at Copercampos, Laerte Izaias Thibes Júnior.
The organization, which has over 1,000 associates, established a partnership with the Biological Phosphate Institute (IFB), and started biologically extracting phosphate from rocks. From then on, the process to reach the fertilizer is not that complicated: phosphate rocks are mixed into the organic material – for the time being Copercampos is using bird droppings, but the organization plans to use pig manure – and the material is then decomposed, with the help of fungi and bacteria. This mixture is united to nitrogen and potassium, in a device that is developed for that purpose, resulting in BioCoper.
Thibes defends his area. According to him, the fertilizer is 10% to 15% cheaper than the traditional product and plants absorb more phosphorous. “With traditional fertilizers, the plant absorbs 20% to 30% of the phosphorus, with the rest staying in the ground. With ours, the plant absorbs as much as 60% to 70% of the phosphorus,” he says.
There is still, according to him, the advantage that the fertilizer, when used for several years in crops, recovers the phosphorous that mineral fertilizer left in the earth. This is done by the fungi and bacteria used in the composting.
The Copercampos fertilizer factory started operating in November. Thibes believes that the demand for BioCoper should take place as it is a different product, as well as being cheaper than mineral fertilizers.
The formula currently used in the factory is for production of fertilizers for bean, soy and vegetables. But it should also be modified in future, according to Thibes, for crops like corn and what. The technical director said that the alternative should help take the idea to other regions of the country.
The Coonagro should benefit from collaboration with Copercampos, for example. Daniel Dias, the executive director at Coonagro, said that the project is being studied by the cooperative. The possibility of producing 100,000 tons, 500,000 tons or one million tons a year is being analyzed.
The cooperatives that make up the Coonagro currently produce 600,000 tons of chicken bedding, to be used in the production of fertilizer. The studies of the project should be concluded by the end of the first quarter of 2010.
A truck offloading eucalyptus bark, coffee grounds, ashes and bird droppings, at the Pluma Visafértil factory, in the city of Mogi Mirim, in the interior of São Paulo, is a common scene. What elsewhere would become garbage, there gains value, as raw material.
The company is one of the new projects in the current national movement for organic and alternative fertilizers. It was born in the 1990s and, ever since, as is the case with several others in Brazil, has been developing its ant’s work to enrich the soil of the country with remains – residues. Pluma Visafértil produces fertilizers from organic raw material.
According to figures supplied by the Association of Organic Fertilizer Industries (Abisolo), Brazil already produces 4.5 million tons of organic and organomineral fertilizers a year. If soil conditioners and substrate for plants are added, products in the same family, the volume reaches 5.2 million tons.
The most common raw material is tree bark, according to Abisolo agronomist Suzana Gazire. But the list of organic fertilizers used in Brazil is long and includes from turf, charcoal, sawdust and residues from the lumber industry to manure, horse and poultry bedding, sand, expanded clay, coconut fiber, vinasse, castor pie and residues from slaughterhouses, among others.
“Around 65% of the companies operating in the sector inaugurated their activities in the mid 1990s,” said Suzana. That was the case with Visafértil. An initiative of an environmentally concerned philosopher, Ulisses Girardi, the company is one of those that work for the image of organic manures not to be damaged by the inadequate and environmentally incorrect use of natural inputs.
“We buy the raw material according to specific standards,” explained the agronomist at the company, Alexandra Luppi Guedes.
Alexandra explained that each input is fermented individually until it reaches its ideal point. Residues are then fermented together, in a natural manner. They are not mixed in with mineral products.
The raw material is sought in the region, at a maximum distance of 100 kilometers, so that the transportation cost may be viable, as the volume of material is large, explained the agronomist. The product is geared at vegetable gardens, fruit farms, corn crops and pastures.