Brothers Russell and Steven Maifredi have seen their fair share of cane crops as fourth-generation farmers who are also contract planters, fertilisers and sprayers in the Tully region.
The pair run farms bordering the Tully and Murray rivers, and work at more than 10 other properties around the district.
In the last eight years, they have been making changes that reduce costs, improve efficiencies and help the environment. These include cutting fertiliser rates, using rate control to vary fertiliser application in suitable conditions, and applying additives to improve soil health.
Their latest changes are part-funded by the Australian Government through its Reef Trust IV Repeated Tenders program. The Maifredis are trialling a split fertiliser application strategy which is further reducing their use of inorganic nitrogen. They are also fine-tuning their use of calibrated and variable rate fertiliser boxes.
Russell now applies a half rate of fertiliser on 45 per cent of their cane land and then follows up with the other half several months later.
“We are aiming to reduce our bagged nitrogen usage and increase its effectiveness doing this,’’ he says. “There is less chance of run-off in weather events and we can put additives into the soil at the same time that are compatible with liquid fertiliser.
“There are always a lot of variables but the results appear to be good. We have dropped our fertiliser use by 30 units of nitrogen over the last three years. And we are not going backwards.
“We’ve noticed the root structure of our cane is better, the cane stays in the ground better and in dry years it gets out quicker.
“By making our soil and plants healthier we can reduce inorganic nitrogen application.”
The Maifredis hope to be able to cut back from 130 to 125 units of nitrogen and, ultimately, get down to 120 units. Up until eight years ago, they were consistently putting on 160 units.
The family runs two cane farms in the Euramo district south of Tully. They have been growing cane for over 80 years on the land.
“We need to look after what we’ve got. With chemicals and fertiliser too expensive to waste, it makes sense to look at other products and methods to help access nitrogen associated with organic matter that is already in the soil.”