New cane fertilising technology manufactured in the Wet Tropics is fine-tuning nutrient management and helping to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Ingham fertiliser company Liquaforce secured Australian Government funding to team up with agronomists and farmers – and the result is a computer-controlled fertiliser applicator that can vary the type and rate of fertiliser to suit soil and crop differences within and between cane blocks.
The first demonstration day was held on a Lower Tully farm recently.
Liquaforce’s Cameron Liddle said the applicator had two tanks so nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous could be applied simultaneously at differing rates. Software linked to the applicator used block-specific mapping - based on soil tests, satellite or drone imagery and electro-magnetic mapping – to ensure the best nutrient rates are applied to each part of the crop.
Mr Liddle secured Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership funding via the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III grants for the project, and has created test sites on four farms in the Tully and Herbert regions.
Wet Tropic Sugar Industry Partnership’s Bruce Corcoran said the innovation was useful for farms with significant variations within cane blocks, which affected the take-up of fertiliser.
“With the move away from blanket application of one fertiliser at one rate, farmers can fine-tune their fertiliser use, improving fertiliser efficiency and reducing costs while maximising production,’’ he said.
“The flow-on effect is improved water quality with less nutrients flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.”
The liquid fertiliser applicator is currently being used in the Tully region. It will also be used in the Ingham area this year.
Mr Liddle said he had been working with TopCrop agronomist Don Pollock and Ingham’s TDC Auto Electrical.
“We began with satellite vegetation data and electro-magnetic mapping of paddocks on trial sites,’’ he said. “With that data on hand we moved on to intensive soil testing to get a very good idea of each paddock’s soil type and nutrient levels and determine block and crop variabilities.
“From this, we make electronic fertiliser application maps that are plugged into the tractor’s GPS-controlled computer and these determine the delivery rates from each tank.”
Lauri Keto’s farm at Lower Tully is the first trial site. The long-time cane farmer said he had been applying an all-of-farm liquid fertiliser rate for more than a decade.
“Some of my cane rows are 600m long and soil types differ so having the option of variability is pretty exciting stuff,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the comparisons now I can apply two products at varying rates.”