New research and extension to improve soil health

Date Posted

4 October, 2019

Posted by

brad.pfeffer

Cane growers and millers in the Central Region and Wet Tropics Region will benefit from new industry-specific research and extension activity that will improve soil health.

These projects are seeing multiple organisations from these regions working together over two years to examine the impact of farming practices on improved soil health and productivity.

As part of the Sugar Research Australia’s Soil Health Program, the Soil Health Project- Central and Wet Tropics Soil Health Project are pairing multiple neighbouring farms in each region to investigate the benefits of implementing improved farming system (IFS) practices compared with traditional farm management practices. The outcome for growers will be increased understanding of farming practices that will optimise yield, increase efficiencies and make a difference to their farming business.

Investment in the project is through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, SRA and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and with substantial in-kind from local millers, service and advisory organisations such as project managers, Farmacist Ltd (Central) and TRAP Services (Wet Tropics).

“The sites within the project will allow growers and millers in these regions to understand the practices and benefits of adopting IFS practices that improve soil health,” SRA Soil Health Program Leader, Ms Marguerite White, said. “Each of the paired sites will become discussion points for local grower and service provider groups engaged in the project. These groups will be supported by SRA Adoption Officers, Farmacist and TRAP Services to interpret the data and understand how the key outcomes are transferable to a growers’ own farming system practices.”

Physical, chemical and biological soil parameters will be measured, along with root development testing, to determine variation between the sites within each pair and therefore the long-term impact of implementing IFS practices. This work will also assist the industry to determine the best set of soil health indicators for these respective regions.

The economic implications of transitioning to IFS will be investigated and communicated through case studies. Local productivity services and agency extension personnel will also be trained in use of the new SRA Soil Health Extension Toolkit, developed by the Soil Health Project of the Burdekin and Herbert Regions.

“Expansion of the Toolkit into these new regions is a great example of how different projects of the Soil Health Program have been designed to collaborate and value-add to one another. It is an integral component of the new project,” Ms White said. “The components of the Toolkit allow certain soil health indicators to be measured quite quickly in the field, and most importantly, it provides a practical tool for advisors to start a good discussion about possible soil health constraints that are limiting yield potential with growers.”

The projects are funded to supply the Toolkit to the partners of the project and validate soil health parameters across soil types.

SRA CEO Mr Neil Fisher said SRA had secured this additional research investment into the sugarcane industry to allow the expansion of existing soil health activity that is already occurring in the Burdekin and Herbert regions.

“Improving soil health is a priority issue for our industry, particularly given the cane industry faces several unique challenges and constraints,” Mr Fisher said. “One of our unique challenges has been to identify a short season complementary rotational crop coupled with the challenge of moving towards the moving towards an improved farming system and having two systems on farm during the transition phase.

“The good news is that many in the cane industry are finding innovative ways to improve their soil health and improve productivity, profitability and sustainability. We are seeing continued adoption of improved farming system practices that improve the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of sugarcane soils.

“This new project is bringing together on-ground innovation with the latest in research and adoption to deliver outcomes for the industry.”

  • The Soil Health Project- Central is supported by the Department of Agriculture, through funding from Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Sugar Research Australia and the Queensland Government with assistance from Farmacist Pty Ltd, Plane Creek Productivity Services Ltd, Sugar Services Proserpine Ltd, Central Queensland Soil Health Systems, Wilmar Sugar, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, The University of Queensland and University of Southern Queensland.
  • The Wet Tropics Soil Health Project is supported by the Department of Agriculture, through funding from Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Sugar Research Australia and with assistance from TRAP Services, Tully Cane Productivity Services Limited, MSF Sugar, Tully Sugar, WTSIP, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, The University of Queensland and University of Southern Queensland.