This section covers many of the on-farm practices and procedures that are conducted as part of sugarcane farming, including harvesting, irrigation, nutrition, and precision agriculture. SRA invests in and conducts a range of research and adoption activities across these aspects of sugarcane farming.

Harvesting

Cane production is affected by both harvesting and field issues which can impact on raw sugar quality and quantity. Both harvesting efficiency and crop presentation affect cane yield, cane quality and ratoonability (ratooning).

Harvesting Best Practice (HBP) guidelines

Research conducted into harvester performance has developed Harvesting Best Practice (HBP) guidelines to reduce cane loss, improve cane quality, and reduce stool damage.

The HBP guidelines also focus on the impact that crop presentation has on harvesting efficiency. Information available covers topics such as farming for efficient harvesting; the effect of extractor fanspeed on cane loss, crop yield, extraneous matter and CCS; harvester setup to reduce basecutter/chopper losses; and improving billet quality for planting.

With harvesting impacting on raw sugar quality and crop yields, a HBP approach will ensure the ongoing profitability and sustainability of the entire sugarcane industry.

Irrigation

The use of water and its cost remain a key part of the production-profitability equation for many cane growers. Over half of the Australian sugarcane crop relies on either full or supplementary irrigation. Water availability varies by district, with the Burdekin region having the most reliable supply with a full irrigation allocation each year. Water allocations in the other irrigated districts, such as the Atherton Tableland and the Central and Southern Regions, are more variable.

Furrow, overhead low-pressure systems, including centre pivot or lateral move, and overhead high-pressure systems, including water winches and travelling booms, are the most common irrigation systems in use. However, emerging technologies such as drip irrigation are being seen as a new way to irrigate as they conserve water and lower energy inputs.

Irrigation Tools

IrrigWeb

The primary aim of IrrigWeb is to provide irrigators with current and local advice on sugarcane crop water use and development. The tool combines crop water use estimates with user-defined irrigation system constraints and crop cycle inputs to schedule future irrigation events.

 

EconCalc

Developed by the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) EconCalc is a decision support tool which can economically evaluate the costs and benefits associated with a new irrigation system.  It calculates a number of economic performance indicators such as net present value, the annualised costs/benefits, the internal rate of return and the benefit cost ratioconomic calculator for irrigation systems.

 

KMSI – Knowledge Management System for Irrigation

Developed by the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) this toolkit contains a range of on-line tools for irrigation systems and irrigators, including EconCalc. Some tools require a user name and password.

 

Watersched2

Developed by the Queensland Government this free on-line irrigation management tool is principally designed for use with field crops but can also be used with sugarcane.  It uses real time weather data to calculate crop growth and water use. A user name and password are required.

Nutrition

As the lead research agency for the Australian sugarcane industry, SRA plays a pivotal role investing in and researching activities related to nitrogen use and other issues concerning nitrogen use and the interaction between farming systems and water quality.

SRA provides robust and independent research in this field and assists our industry investors to optimise productivity and profitability while also moving towards meeting water quality targets.

The SIX EASY STEPS to improved nutrient management

  1. Knowing and understanding our soils
  2. Understanding and managing nutrient processes and losses
  3. Soil testing regularly
  4. Adopting soil specific fertiliser recommendations
  5. Checking on the adequacy of fertiliser inputs
  6. Keeping good records and modifying nutrient inputs when and where necessary

Using the SIX EASY STEPS to improved nutrient management is your best bet.  This means doing a number of things well so that the overall result is the best possible.  Using the SIX EASY STEPS is logical and simple, but it requires commitment to be successful.

The concept of SIX EASY STEPS means combining a number of possible actions to ensure sustainable nutrient usage on the farm.  This combination forms a ‘whole system’ approach to nutrient management.

Will this make a real difference on my farm?

Adopting soil-specific fertiliser recommendations will enable you to take a distinct step forward.  Appropriate nutrient management should be based on knowledge of soils and nutrient processes that occur in soils.  This fundamental understanding should be used in conjunction with soil testing to determine the appropriate amounts of nutrients that should be applied to deliver benefits in terms of productivity, profitability and environmental responsibility.

What progress has been made to deliver such soil specific recommendations?

Over the past few years substantial advances have been made in developing a set of nutrient management guidelines that will be appropriate for use within the concept of the SIX EASY STEPS.  These guidelines ensure that nutrient inputs are balanced.  It is essential that nutrient inputs are managed properly.  This is especially true during periods of low sugar prices or when adverse conditions exist in our industry.  In such circumstances, guessing or using ‘blanket’ applications is not good enough.  It is worth making informed decisions about fertiliser applications.

What details are available about the soil specific nutrient guidelines?

Modified guidelines for the most important nutrients are in place.  Explanations of these are included in this workbook and cover nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), silicon (Si), zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu).  Guidelines for lime, gypsum and mill by-products are also included.

Other Resources

NutriCalcTM is an online nutrient management tool and part of our SIX EASY STEPS nutrient management package. Jointly developed with the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) this tool can help you develop nutrient management plans for use on-farm.

To request a username and password email nutricalc@sugarresearch.com.au

Precision agriculture

Precision agriculture (PA) is a farm management technique that addresses the variability of the land and resulting variability in yield to improve farm productivity and profitability. PA can also help address variability in weed, pest and disease occurrence and moisture supply. In its current form, PA is often associated with technologies such as GPS, GIS and variable-rate applicators. The use of technology does not always automatically lead to PA but, in sugarcane production, technology is used for most PA practices.

Related Links

Australia

SPAA Precision Agriculture Australia is a non-profit membership-based group formed to promote the development and adoption of precision agriculture technologies.

Precision Agriculture Laboratory at the University of Sydney conducts precision agriculture science and training and their website includes a wealth of Educational Resources.

Precision Agriculture Research Group (PARG) at the University of New England is a multi-disciplinary team of academic, research and technical staff engaged in the development and application of sensors and practices in precision agriculture.

Precision Agriculture Manual (Grains Research and Development Corporation) provides a good introduction to precision agriculture, much of which can be applied to sugarcane.

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Precision Agriculture Links provide growers and other users with a range of information sources about Precision Agriculture.

Farmacist is an agronomic solutions provider that offers precision agriculture consulting for sugarcane.

Precision Agriculture Consulting is a consulting company offering advice, training and products associated with precision farming industries.

International

International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) is a non-profit, professional scientific organisation working to advance the science of precision agriculture.

PrecisionAg is a website that provides a wealth of information about all things related to precision agriculture as well as a link to the PrecisionAg Institute, a research, education and advocacy group.

Several international universities provide precision agriculture information online that can be used around the globe. The following are some good examples:

Equipment and Software

Many companies throughout Australia and the world provide precision agriculture equipment and software. Below is a list of those most commonly used in sugarcane production:

This information is provided for your interest. We do not endorse any of these organisations as outlined in our disclaimer.

FertFinder tool

SRA has developed a new tool for sugarcane growers and advisors to help select the right fertiliser blend that matches the nutritional requirements of growers’ paddocks.  The tool is called FertFinder. It is aimed at assisting sugarcane growers and advisors filter through the hundreds of fertiliser products available on the market.

This tool aims to make the process of choosing a fertiliser simpler by highlighting fertiliser blends that are available in your region and meet the nutritional requirements of your crop. Soil testing and choosing the right fertiliser are crucial aspects of the SIX EASY STEPS approach to nutrient management. SIX EASY STEPS is a science-based nutrient management tool that enables the adoption of best practice nutrient management on-farm.

You can view the CaneClip here, explaining how to use the FertFinder.

For questions, contact SRA Adoption Officer, Gavin Rodman, grodman@sugarresearch.com.au or (07) 4056 4508.