A cropping trial is now in the ground at Katunga as a forerunner to a $1 billion renewable fuel development.
Investment company, AgBioEn, is planning a massive biofuel plant on a 40 ha former dairy farm, which will use agricultural waste.
The company is looking for ways of generating the bio-mass as an energy source and has struck up a partnership with La Trobe University to research ways of growing suitable crops.
La Trobe has established three trial plots of maize, with 16 soil sensors that measure soil moisture and temperature every half an hour.
The sensors transmit to a ‘gateway’ box in the corner of the paddock, which uploads the information, together with weather data, onto a computer cloud using the terrestrial communications network.
AgBioEn program director Lubey Lozevski said the results of the trials, analysed by La Trobe University, would be publicly available.
He said they were using different fertilisers to improve the crop yield.
“We'll test this over the next six months using technology, including the weather station, the soil probes and aerial drone,” Mr Lozevski said.
“This will tell us how best to grow the crops for our facility."
He expects to start construction of the plant mid next year and see the first fuel emerge from it in 2022.
The company intends to produce about 150 million litres of renewable fuels, including aviation fuel and diesel annually.
Soil microbial biologist Jen Wood, from La Trobe University, said they were running field trials looking at landscape changes and the best way to improve crop productivity with sub-soil manuring to improve sub-soil structure, improve soil carbon and water infiltration
“Sub-soil manuring has been around for a while, but this is the first time we've had cutting edge technology to get real time information about what is going on throughout the crop in the growing season,” Dr Wood said.
The project was announced in February, but COVID-19 has delayed the development.
The plant, which could employ up to 500 people, will generate its own electricity, so will be off-grid.
The company has grown its own barley crop over winter on the Katunga site, which is behind the Katunga Fresh business.
“We will buy, lease or sharefarm to generate the bio-mass,” Mr Lozevski said.
The company anticipates buying more land in Victoria or NSW to help generate the bio-mass it needs.
This article first appeared in Shepparton News, 14th December 2020