Euramo cane grower Ray Zamora is breaking new ground this cane-planting season – with modified machinery and a cover crop still in the soil.
In an industry-first, the fourth-generation farmer has modified a dual row double disc planter to include a crimp roller and other componentry so he can achieve zero-till planting on his family’s 110ha property near Tully.
Ray finished planting last week and says he had “a smile like a split watermelon” to see his mixed species cover crop still in the ground with the cane planted underneath it.
“We planted through the cover crop – that way we can keep living roots in the earth as long as possible and there is only one pass, for the cover crop, and then the planting,’’ he said.
The Zamoras received funding from the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III Water Quality Incentives Grants program to buy a second-hand planter – already a ‘special’ used for zero-till in the Burdekin - and make modifications to it.
They were among 55 Wet Tropics cane farmers who secured funding for projects that help growers improve the quality of water flowing off their farms to the Great Barrier Reef.
Living in a wet part of the world and with cane on Murray River flood plain land, Ray wanted to extend the amount of time his fallow crops could be in the ground. He also wanted to reduce soil compaction and cut back on fertilisers.
Modifications to the planter included adding the crimp roller and changing rolling and soil-cover components, disc-opener angles and the planter’s width to suit the Zamora’s farming system based on 1.9m row spacings and dual rows 500mm apart.
“With the extended season length it’s not viable sometimes to plant a cover crop at Christmas time,” Ray said. “This system allows me to come back in April when the wet season is over to plant a mixed species cover crop.
“The crimp roller lays the cover crop down as I plant but it is still acting as an armour for the soil surface for longer, while also suppressing weeds and providing a slow-release of nutrients for the new cane crop.
“It’s also reducing the costs of preparing the ground for planting.”
Ray’s current fallow crop is a mixture of tillage radish, field brassica, Japanese millet, Rhodes grass and triticale. It follows years of trialling cover crops at the farm with support from Project Catalyst - a partnership between innovative Queensland cane growers, The Coca Cola Foundation, WWF, Bayer CropScience, the Australian Government, Terrain NRM, Reef Catchments, Catchment Solutions and NQ Dry Tropics.
“These crops are breaking the sugar cane and fallow monocultures and they’re also improving the soil’s health and structure because each of these plants bring different benefits to the soil,’’ he said. “I don’t think it’s sustainable to keep adding more and more artificial fertilisers to compensate for poor soil health.”