Less is more for Ingham cane grower Brad Morley who has cut back on fertilisers and tillage in a swag of changes to his farm which are bringing results.
The third-generation cane farmer reduced synthetic fertiliser use by 20 per cent - and is now aiming for 30 per cent. He has also abandoned his discs, full-size ripper and rotary hoe.
“We are moving away from some of the traditional farming practices and our crops look better and healthier for it,’’ Mr Morley said.
He started trialling minimum tillage methods seven years ago and has since planted legumes as a fallow crop and begun modifying machinery to suit wider cane rows, thanks to grant funding from the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III program, which is being delivered by the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP).
A new round of grants is now open and Mr Morley is encouraging farmers to get on board.
He is using his grant funding to widen a zonal ripper, high-rise spray tractor and planter as part of a move to ‘controlled traffic’ by widening crop rows to a minimum of 1.8m to suit the width of modern heavy harvesting equipment.
The change is reducing soil compaction, improving soil and root health and helping him to get maximum benefit from his other fallow and tillage practices.
A whole-of-farm change to crop row widths will take another five years.
“It’s worth it. With this change and the others, we are seeing a big improvement in stool size and we’re getting longer ratoons,’’ Mr Morley said. “Our overheads for fuel and machinery wear and tear have reduced and so has erosion. We’re also finding we are able to get back on paddocks more quickly after rain because of harder inter-rows.
“And there has been no loss in yield or sugar content in the process.”
The latest, and final, round of Reef Trust III water quality grants closes on Friday 27 April.
The grants focus on improving nutrient, herbicide and sediment practices within integrated farming systems. Eligible project types include advanced nutrient management, controlled-traffic, legume break-cropping, reduced tillage, reduced residual-herbicide use and integrated farm drainage.
Mr Morley said his grant was accelerating change on his farm.
“I’ve been able to do this in stages with the 50-50 funding and extension support from WTSIP,’’ he said.
“There is only one way to find out if different farming methods work on your farm. You’ve got to try it, even if it’s only on a very small portion of the farm initially.”