Soil and nutrient management has changed significantly in the past 20 years, greatly improving the efficiency of crop production.
Recommendations for optimal nitrogen rates have become more accurate and specific; there is greater attention to ensuring all plant nutrients are in adequate supply; trash retention has reduced erosion; controlled traffic farming and reduced tillage have improved soil structure and reduced costs; and well-managed legume fallows help break pest and disease cycles while reducing fertiliser costs and improving soil health.
The need to focus on soil health and not just nitrogen and the importance of good agronomic practices is clear. While nitrogen is important for productivity, it is clear improved soil biology will achieve healthier soils which will result in better yields, benefiting both the farm business and the environment.
Herbert River cane grower Robert Bonassi knows that soil health is key to slashing fertiliser rates without affecting yield. He has focused on fallow crops, mill by-products and soil tests in his transition to cane that is less reliant on artificial fertilisers. Fertiliser rates have been cut by up to 20% over four years - moving from 160kg of nitrogen per hectare to 120–130kg for plant cane and 145kg for ratoons. Read more.
Innisfail cane growers Sam and Michael Spina have reduced their fertiliser rates and costs without negatively impacting their productivity. They made changes ranging from planting fallow crops and varying fertiliser application rates across paddocks to laser-levelling cane land and installing spoon drains. As a result, the brothers have reduced the farm’s nitrogen or fertiliser use from 160 to 124kg per hectare, and their fertiliser costs by 20%. Read more.
Many farmers have been keen to trial a variety of soil-enhancing activities in recent years including the Rossi family at Aloomba. They've been making compost on an industrial scale, winning a 2019 Reef Champion Award and being featured in a CANEGROWERS Virtual Bus Tour video Composting on a Wet Tropics Cane Farm.
Providing adequate nutrients, especially N, P and K, has long been the focus of soil management for sugarcane growers. Farm practices today have changed greatly with the advancements in soil and nutrient management. Smartcane BMP’s first module examines how to improve soil health and optimise nutrient management to reduce soil constraints to crop production, where physical, like compaction, or chemical, like sodicity. Read more.
The Russo family from the Isis district are 'Going nuts to improve soil health' as they show us how they are using peanuts, together with an efficient irrigation system, to boost their soil and improve productivity of their sugarcane crops in Episode 2, Season 7 of the CANEGROWERS' Virtual Bus Tour series.