Over 300 cane growers in the Wet Tropics have taken advantage of whole-farm nutrient management plans to better match nutrient inputs to crop requirements, increase understanding of their soils and in some cases save money.
The Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP) is offering customised nutrient management planning through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III funding – and it has been well received by growers.
WTSIP chair and cane grower Joe Marano said the plans are a starting point for fine-tuning the whole farming system, and while each plan is individualised there is a consistent approach.
“When we first came together as a partnership, we saw this as an opportunity to substantially improve nutrient management planning - by developing a consistent approach that could be applied across the whole region,’’ Mr Marano said. “Over time, it
has evolved as we’ve found more ways to add value for growers.”
He said significantly less nitrogen had been applied to crops since WTSIP’s extension team began working with growers on nutrient management plans in the Wet Tropics.
“Our extension officers take a holistic approach to nutrient planning so they’re looking for a range of possible underlying restraints that may be affecting yields. This could include drainage issues, disease, soil physical properties and many other factors as well as nutrient levels,” Mr Marano said.
“It’s about being a bit more scientific in matching inputs and crop requirements to improve yields but we’re also identifying areas in the landscape that are at a higher risk for nutrient loss into waterways.”
Herbert grower Paul Marbelli worked with WTSIP extension officer Leanne Carr to develop a nutrient management plan as part of the funding he received through the Australian Governments Reef Trust IV Repeated Tenders program.
“Like most land managers I’m trying to find the sweet spot between minimising impacts on the environment and maintaining a sustainable productive farming business,” Mr Marbelli said.
“I applied for financial backing while trialling less than recommended nitrogen rates across my farm over a crop cycle and the plan matched very closely to my new lowered application rates, so it gave me a lot more confidence that I was heading in the right direction.
“I’m close to the mill so I’ve been using a lot of mill by-products over the years but by analysing my soil tests Leanne has helped me see the potential to reduce my rate of application of mill by-products and utilise application of lime.”
Feluga grower Chris O’Kane said he had reduced inputs and costs since working with extension officer Alex Lindsay on a nutrient management plan.
“Alex visited our farm, reviewed our soil samples and did a lot of work for us off-farm to work out the best whole farm plan for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. We had about 30 different soil tests, each with a slightly different recommendation, and Alex rationalised it to three or four blends of fertiliser.”
Mr Marano said many growers were pleasantly surprised to discover how easy their WTSIP nutrient management plans are to use.
“Once it’s done you’ve got all your soil tests and recommendations in one place so when you’re ordering fertiliser you only need to refer to the one plan,” he said.
“NMPs are useful both for Smartcane BMP accredited growers as well as those who are working towards accreditation because they help with keeping accurate records without spending hours hand-writing block numbers, fertiliser products and percentages.”
The Australian Government’s Reef Trust III program, which is funding WTSIP’s extension team, had been extended to the end of 2019. Growers in the Wet Tropics who are interested in developing a nutrient management plan are encouraged to contact their local WTSIP extension officer. Visit www.wtsip.org.au/team to find your local contact.