Soils are the basis of life

Not too many of us know that the soil we very often trample upon holds our existence and future. Soils are the basis for a multitude of crops and organisms that live in it to provide us with food, biomass and fibres, raw materials and CO2 capture. However, soils also regulate the water, carbon, nutrient and oxygen cycles. Soils make life on land possible. According to the EU Soil Strategy 2030, it takes thousands of years to produce a few centimeters of this magic carpet. But a very short time for man to destroy it if we do not care.

SYNECO will keep and restore soils

A joint project called SYNOCO is being undertaken by

1) the Farmers Central Cooperative Society Ltd (FCCS)

2) the milk producers cooperative (KPH)

3) the pig breeders cooperative (KIM)

The aim of the project is to keep and restore agricultural soils by using the most advanced “state-of-the-art technology” to treat cow and pig slurry and use the recovered organic matter and nutrients to protect and restore soils.

SYNECO is financed by the European Union through “The Rural Development Programme for Malta 2014-2020”. It has just completed a week of “one-to-one training” with fruit and vegetable farmers who are also FCCS members.

This training is in anticipation of the production of organic fertilizer that SYNECO will recover from treated pig and cow slurry and which can easily substitute part of the chemical fertilizers applied today.

The training sessions were carried out on farms, with the farmers, so that SYNECO representatives could understand better the fertigation techniques commonly used in Malta, crop rotation as well as the fertilizer planning that takes places. In return, the farmers understood the importance of applying organic fertilisers as well as the importance/relevance of SYNECO for sustainable agriculture in Malta.

This work is fundamental for SYNECO to prepare for the delivery of organic fertilizer to local soils. SYNECO will provide:

  • sanitized fibres, rich in organic content, that can be applied to the base soils when the farmer is preparing his/her parcel.
  • a liquid fertilizer, in the form of an ammonium sulphate solution (ASS) that has excellent nutrient characteristics for agriculture in Malta.

The decline of organic matter in European soils

The EU Soil Strategy states that “soil organic matter is the key component in regulating the ability of soil to support a high level of biodiversity and provide ecosystem services related to its fertility, as well as constituting a stock of carbon removed from the atmosphere.’’ The decline of organic matter in European soils is a major cause for concern in the EU, mainly because of the loss of fertility and the risks of desertification and the resulting Green House Gas emissions.

From sampling carried out by SYNECO, on average local soils have 2.7% organic matter. This is already below the range of 3% to 6% that the EU is targeting insofar as organic content in European soils is concerned. If SYNECO does affectively take off, the solid fibres that will start to be applied to local soils will enhance this percentage. This fibre, indigenous to our agricultural community, is a valuable resource that, up until today, has been overlooked. The landfilling of these fibres or, worse still, the export of this organic resource can be abated if SYNECO finds the support it deserves.

The shift in mindset and of legislation to promote circular economy in Malta

The shift in the mindset of the local authorities and the farming community is important if progress on soil fertility shall progress in Malta. The organic fertilizer should be protected by adequate legislation to promote circular economy in agriculture in Malta. To mitigate concerns, SYNECO has also developed CropManagerTM, a mobile app, to help farmers plan the use of this organic fertiliser and to provide all the documented evidence that the authorities need to safeguard legislative needs.

Pilot facility for organic fertilizer will be delivered this year

The technology that will treat and recover this organic fertiliser will be assembled on a local pig and cow farm and has just acquired a temporary planning permit for a pilot facility. The facility will be up and running during the second half of this year with the first batches of fertiliser being available for testing during this time.