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Talon grasps at salinity solution

ROCKS and bugs could play a major role in checking Australia’s biggest environmental problem, soil salinity, as well as clearing the State’s waterways of choking weed and other pollutants.

Only a few years ago, Perth company Talon Resources was considered a minor joke in some mining circles – while other junior explorers rushed into dot com companies, Talon was content to make a living selling kitty litter.

It still does (as many of its contemporaries who went into hi tech face ruin).

Its success in mining the minerals which make ideal absorbent litter, at sites near Albany and in NSW, led it into researching an obscure mineral called zeolite, which is added to high priced litters to remove odours.

But Talon is now on the verge of developing zeolite products – dosed with the appropriate bacteria – which will convert the destructive sodium in salt-affected farmlands into a form in which plants will again grow.

Perhaps its most dramatic challenge will be in Queensland, where the State Government is supporting trials which could greatly reduce the run off of nutrients from the hundreds of thousands of hectares of sugar and cotton farms that threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

Trials in sugar and cotton in that State (where the Talon’s high-grade zeolite deposit is located) have already produce dramatically higher yields.

It does so because the mineral, through electrolytic and crystal mechanisms, traps fertilisers and releases them only when the surrounding soil need them.

At present much of the fertiliser used in Australia is leached away, to end up in waterways like the Swan River and the Peel Inlet, at Mandurah, causing weed and other environmental problems.

Talon has bred its own “menagerie” of bacteria, which can attack salt, and remove heavy metals and other contaminants from soil.

Zeolite has been used effectively in other countries to improve crop yields, but Talon believes it is unique in having bred its own range of bacteria, to employ the mineral for cleaning up contaminated areas.

Trials will begin soon, as will others on wheat lands near Albany, to demonstrate that zeolite, and its resident microbes, can revitalise tired soils in WA’s wheatbelt.

Tests carried out in Queensland have greatly increased sugar and cotton yields by “banking” fertilisers in the zeolite until they are needed, and through microbial action, improving the health of soils.

There also have been impressive savings in water in these crops and in a number of fruit and vegetable trials.

Tests carried out on a vineyard at Mt Barker showed that zeolite produced healthier vines.

Farmers are delighted to find that the rocky zeolite does not readily dissolve, so one application on their crops lasts at least five years.

Such longevity would not seem to be an ideal marketing factor for Talon, but there are 750,000ha of sugar and cotton crops in Queensland, and an application of 2.5 tonnes per hectare could provide an attractive market (though the company is presuming all those areas will be covered).

It also could be employed in many other Australian farming industries, but it is yet to be proved whether it would be economic on a broad acre crop like wheat.

Meanwhile, the humble kitty litter continues to fund research that could transform parts of the Australian landscape.

In what could be called a time and motion exercise, the nation’s cats generate nearly $10 million a year for Talon, and its research.

Talon shares traded at about 8.6 cents earlier this week, below its 12-month best of 12 cents but above its year low of 6.5 cents.

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