Go Organics is changing the landscape in Western Australia, combining science and food organics garden organics (FOGO) to improve soil health.
“It’s all very well for everyone to be taking on food organics garden organics (FOGO), but it has to go somewhere.”
It’s that somewhere that Donovan Farrell, Manager Go Organics in Western Australia, is focused on.
Donovan is in the middle of a multi-million-dollar expansion of the Go Organics compost facility in Boonanarring, in the Gingin area, to accommodate the state’s burgeoning FOGO industry.
He’s also working with universities, local government, and the agriculture sector to ensure FOGO becomes a valuable resource.
“This is the problem everyone is facing,” Donovan says. “We’re pushing FOGO out of landfill, which is great for the environment. But where does it go?
“We have to do it in a way that’s going to work for everyone, commercially and environmentally.”
Donovan is no stranger to the compost industry – Go Organics is a subsidiary of national horticultural and garden supplier Brunnings, which has been in existence for more than a century, supplying compost to retailers such as Coles, Woolworths and Big W for the past 30 years.
With the purchase of Go Organics in 2010, Donovan established the 500-acre facility at Boonanarring. He built a forced aeration shed to compost chicken manure but began studying whether FOGO could be composted into an Australian standard product. For two years, Go Organics has composted 50,000 tonnes of organics annually, including 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of FOGO.
When the Western Australian Government mandated that all local governments in the Perth and Peel regions adopt FOGO by 2025, Donovan recognised a lot of that would end up as compost. He’s growing the business to try and absorb the influx and avoid poor quality products flooding the market.
He has works approval to expand Boonanarring to process up to 124,000 tonnes. Plans include constructing an enclosed forced aerated concrete bunker, hard stands (engineered environmental barriers to stop the composting process affecting groundwater) and more leachate ponds.
“We’ve got a bunker system to do all the pasteurisation, but the magic happens on the hard stands,” Donovan says. “We let nature do its bit and keep feeding the process with water and air.”
John McKew, National Executive Officer of the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA), visited Donovan and his Boonanarring site in early May 2023.
“There is a real entrepreneurial spirit within the organics recycling sector in Western Australia,” John says.
“Donovan and Go Organics are a great example of that in action – Donovan has recognised the need for additional FOGO processing potential in WA, has committed to this and is pursuing new end-use markets to manage the increased supply of compost.”
Donovan is an advocate of letting nature do its bit. Brunnings’ ethos has always been to provide Earth-friendly products and reduce environmental impact.
That has flowed through to Boonanarring – 250 acres of the property have been left as natural vegetation to offset emissions and produce oxygen. Donovan describes it as an oxygen factory.
Additionally, any water captured in leachate dams is reused in the compost process and a 130-kilowatt solar system on the shed roofs adds to the company’s good environmental story.
It’s a story for which Donovan is writing new chapters through his work to unlock more value of organic waste.
Go Organics is supplying about 20,000 tonnes of bagged compost to retailers. About 25 per cent of that will comprise FOGO. Another 15,000 tonnes will go to the bulk soil market.
Donovan’s hoping there’ll be some offtake for commercial landscape and infrastructure projects.
He recently partnered with the Southern Metro Regional Council to add soil conditioner to the parks and gardens in a new suburb redevelopment and has worked with Main Roads and the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia to create a growing media to support plant growth on roadside verges.
He says there’s an opportunity for the government to create a circular economy for compost by mandating a percentage be used in new suburb developments.
“We put a FOGO compost landscape mix in the amenities along the road and got a good result out of it,” Donovan says. “There were a few challenges. The high nutrient value of compost means you need to mix a lot of sand with it because too much phosphorus will damage native plants. We got some good results. It was good to get this project off the ground.
“It’s a bit of a trailblazer for suburb and infrastructure development.”
Similar principles have been used to rehabilitate a zircon mine in Boonanarring. Donovan worked with the Murdoch University and Soil CRC to create a high-performance soil by blending compost and clay from the mine.
In the sandy soils of WA, combined with long hot summers, compost will burn off. By adding some clay, the compost ‘held’ onto the soil. Studies showed it also required 20 per cent less water to produce the same plant yield.
Donovan says the soil product shows promise to help drought-proof the state.
He’s also hopeful work with the Murdoch University and local farmers will future proof the agriculture industry. They’re developing soil products with regenerative benefits such as water retention and carbon sequestration to improve farmland.
He says plants have broken their relationship with soil because they rely on fertilisers. Putting compost into the soil acts as a catalyst to put life back into the soil and start using nature’s processes.
The results have been encouraging, but Donovan says it’s just the beginning. He’s already working on what he calls the second and third generation compost research – biochar and vermicomposting.
“The earthworm is like an alchemist,” Donovan says. “Once FOGO has gone through the biology of an earthworm it’s chemically changed to a high value product.
“What we’re doing now is really first generation. The real value-add comes when you start working the natural biology that God gave us.”
For more information, visit: www.goorganics.com.au