Hyacinth Recovery and Reuse Pilot: Making compost out of weeds

A pilot project is experimenting with harvesting an invasive, fast-spreading weed in the Fitzroy region’s waterways and turning it into mulch or compost for agricultural use.

The Hyacinth Recovery and Reuse Pilot project is part of the Rockhampton Regional Council’s “Making Water Work” Program and is managed by central Queensland’s Natural Resource Management organisation, Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA).

The project aims to remove 500 tonnes of hyacinth from the Murray Lagoon near Rockhampton, turn it into mulch or compost and trial it for improving soil nutrition and microbe activity at three properties in the region.

The project is funded by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) and Rockhampton Regional Council.

Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor, Tony Williams, said the project was an important initiative for the region.

“We know that Hyacinth can be a real problem for our waterways but through this project we are trialing an innovative way of turning the weed into a viable fertilizer product for our local farmers and primary producers,” Mayor Williams said.

“Reuse, recycling and resource recovery is an important principle for our environment and agriculture sectors and present a real opportunity to deliver cost effective and efficient solutions.

“Council through Advance Rockhampton is proud to be partnering with Fitzroy Basin Association, the Queensland Government and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia to deliver this trial.”

FBA Adoption Manager Daniel Boshoff said the Hyacinth Recovery and Reuse Pilot was about creating a circular economy.

“Hyacinth is fairly simple to remove from watercourses, but once it’s removed a large volume of waste is generated that needs to be managed.” Mr Boshoff said.

“By turning this waste into a commercial product while reducing hyacinth infestation and impacts on the river and wildlife is a major win for the water quality and our communities.”

“We want to use a waste product and make something useful so it replaces fertiliser and mulch that land managers usually have to pay for.”

Advance Rockhampton’s Wade Clark (L) Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor Tony Williams and FBA Waterway Management Coordinator Braden Mitchell (R)

FBA Waterway Management Coordinator Braden Mitchell said hyacinth is highly reproductive and can double in volume within a week, forming large mats and choking the waterways.

“It causes damage by obstructing navigation, blocking, and damaging irrigation infrastructure, impeding drainage, destroying wildlife habitat and food, restricting outdoor recreation and impacting the habitat of the critically endangered White-throated Snapping Turtle and endangered Fitzroy River Turtle,” Mr Mitchell said.

The hyacinth will be made into mulch and compost for the first trial, and potentially biochar and stockfeed in the future.

“In the pilot, we’re working with three land managers who will test how well the hyacinth mulch works on their properties,” Mr Mitchell said.

“The properties include cropping, fruit and grazing properties so we hope to get a good idea of how the fertilizer product works across a range of operations.”

Anthony Curro, Chief Executive CRCNA said the program was unlocking opportunities across the north through next generation agriculture.

“We’re building more resilient and circular economies that create real world outcomes for a more sustainable development future,” Mr Curro said.

“The CRCNA is committed to sustainable and nature positive development that creates economic opportunities in diversified horticulture, cropping and livestock production in prospective agricultural regions across Northern Australia, including the Fitzroy Food Bowl.

“The Making Water Work program is a great example of taking the invasive hyacinth weed and recycling its biomass to create positive environmental outcomes by aiding agricultural growth, improving the physical condition of the soil and achieving improved water quality outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef.”

Regional Director (Central), of Rural Economic Development, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Fleur Anderson said the project was an innovative approach to dealing with an invasive weed.

“It will also help realise circular economic opportunities in Central Queensland by repurposing hyacinth into a fertilizer and a livestock product,” Ms Anderson said.

“This pilot will help maximise the local economic contribution of the new Rookwood Weir irrigation precinct.”

The pilot project overall results are expected by the end of 2024.

“If the compost is deemed beneficial, it’s hoped to become a permanent product for the region’s land managers,” Mr Mitchell said.