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.

 

Burdekin Irrigation Project

Increasing industry productivity and profitability through transformational, whole-of-systems sugarcane approaches that deliver water quality benefits.

The Burdekin is the highest sugarcane producing region in Australia, and it thrives on high sunlight, low rainfall and high reliability irrigation water supply. The Burdekin has 80,000 hectares of land under sugarcane of which 95% is furrow irrigated. The Burdekin typically produces 8,300,000 tonnes of cane farmed by approximately 530 growers on 927 farms.

Led by Sugar Research Australia, this project aims to transition growers to scalable, sustainable, and technologically assisted practices in irrigation management, using a whole-of-systems approach that includes water quality validation.

It aims to maximise industry profitability through optimised irrigation practices which directly influence other key farming system priorities. The project will be delivered by a consortium of cross-disciplinary stakeholders, which enables integration of existing relationships with growers, lessons learnt and practical outcomes across numerous water quality improvement projects.

The Burdekin Irrigation Project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with support from Sugar Research Australia, Farmacist, Agritech Solutions, Burdekin Productivity Services, NQ Dry Tropics, James Cook University and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Irrigation of Sugarcane Manual

This SRA publication contains information useful for cane growers experienced in irrigation and also for those new to irrigation practices. The different sections of the manual cover soil water and the response of sugarcane to irrigation, water quality, irrigation systems, and irrigation of saline and sodic soils.

 

Other tools and information sheet downloads

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.

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.

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.