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.

See the full list of our current research investments including those related to irrigation and energy.

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 collaboration between Sugar Research Australia, Farmacist, AgriTech Solutions, Burdekin Productivity Services, Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee, James Cook University, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and NQ Dry Tropics.

23 June 2022 – Round 3 Funding

Calling for Expressions of Interest from cane growers in the Burdekin, to improve their irrigation management practices, and enhance productivity and sustainability.

This is the third round of funding through the Burdekin Irrigation Project (BIP) where cane growers in the region can access expert services and support. Through the project, coordinated by Sugar Research Australia (SRA), local service providers Burdekin Productivity Services (BPS), Farmacist and AgriTech Solutions (ATS) work alongside growers to transition to proven, scalable, sustainable, and technologically advanced irrigation practices.

For more information or to express your interest in this opportunity for Burdekin sugarcane famers, contact SRA’s Project Officer Armin Wessel at Brandon on 0436 937 555 or Terry Granshaw on 0457 650 181.

Download the EOI below. Completed EOI forms are required by Friday 8 July 2022.

  • Please note this may be the last call for expressions of interest.
  • The Burdekin Irrigation Project will run until June 2024 and includes a strong focus on implementing innovative technologies to align the region’s sugarcane farms with the latest irrigation practices.

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 Pty Ltd , Agritech Solutions, Burdekin Productivity ServicesNQ Dry Tropics NRMJCU: James Cook University, Australia 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


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.


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.


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.

Site by Swell Design Group