Sugarcane growers ahead of the game on climate policy

Sugarcane growers ahead of the game on climate policy

Reducing emissions is a challenge facing every sector of the Australian economy, and unfortunately agricultural industries are no exception.

With the federal government committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030, there is some heavy lifting ahead for Australian industries.

However, while many sectors, such as mining, energy and manufacturing, undoubtedly view emission reductions as a challenge, and possibly even a threat to their survival, the sugar industry sees opportunities.

From sustainable aviation fuel and electricity generation to biodegradable plastics, biodiesel and ethanol, sugarcane has the potential to become a feedstock for many renewable, low emission, and sustainable products.

The industry is on the cusp of a dramatic evolution, which over the coming decade will see sugar crystals become just one of a myriad of products produced by cane farmers and mills.

We are uniquely placed to play a vital role in nation’s burgeoning bioeconomy and tangibly contribute to Australia reaching its emissions reductions targets.

But what about your own industry’s emissions, some people may ask.

The good news is, when it comes to emissions reductions, Queensland’s sugarcane growers are well ahead of the game.

CANEGROWERS recently commissioned an in-depth analysis of the industry’s emissions as part of the development of a new climate change policy.

The findings came as surprise, albeit a very pleasant one.

For more than a decade, growers have been innovating and updating their practices as part of a concerted effort to improve the quality of water flowing into local catchments and on to the Great Barrier Reef.

As well as improving water quality these extraordinary changes undertaken by growers have had an additional benefit – a reduction in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

The bulk of the industry’s emissions came from the volatilisation of nitrogen, which is layman’s terms is when nitrogen fertiliser spread in the paddock is not used by the crop and converts to nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas.

By adhering to strict nutrient management strategies that ensure growers are only applying fertiliser required by the crop, and positioning this fertiliser below the surface, growers have significantly decreased the amount of nitrous oxide lost to the environment.

Meanwhile, the implementation of minimum till and controlled traffic systems on farms has greatly reduced the operating time of large agricultural machinery, slashing diesel usage across the industry.

Add to that the fact that many farmers have installed large solar systems to power irrigation units and the scale of emissions reductions in the industry becomes impressive.

We will continue to adapt and innovate to ensure growers are operating as efficiently, cost-effectively, and profitably as possible. Profitability is the ultimate goal.

Achieving this with an eye to the future and the changing role this great industry can have in Queensland and Australia’s growing bioeconomy will be benefit to the whole community.