Nitrogen use efficiency report identifies next steps for improving sugarcane fertiliser efficiency

Date Posted

28 July, 2015

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A new report has identified the challenges and opportunities for the Australian sugarcane industry in improving its efficient use of nitrogen fertiliser, a practice that would deliver improved productivity and profitability for growers and millers as well as improved environmental and sustainability outcomes.

The report has been coordinated by Sugar Research Australia (SRA) for the Australian Government through the Australian Government Reef Programme. Professor Mike Bell from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation has led an independent team of authors and researchers who are experts in their fields to contribute chapters that canvass diverse viewpoints and a range of recommendations.

SRA CEO Neil Fisher said the report revealed opportunities for improving nitrogen management in the Australian sugarcane industry as well as suggesting promising areas for research that could deliver further improvements to nitrogen use efficiency (NUE).

“The industry has already made huge gains in reducing nitrogen fertiliser applications and improving efficiency in recent years,” Mr Fisher said.

“This report provides an opportunity to build on those achievements. It explains the need for benchmarking of nitrogen use practices to ensure that growers are setting realistic targets for yield and not over-applying nitrogen fertiliser. “We also know there is significant potential for the industry to refine nitrogen application rates through continued use and evolution of the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines, to better match nitrogen application to the crop requirements via precision agriculture farming techniques and evaluate enhanced efficiency fertilisers that will reduce nitrogen losses from the farm.

“More research is needed to assess the performance of these products in different environments and soil types and to develop strategies that ensure nitrogen fertiliser is being put to good use, reducing any environmental losses without compromising productivity. There is also potential to look more closely at how different sugarcane varieties perform in relation to NUE and to benchmark new varieties as they progress through the SRA plant breeding program.”

SRA is talking to industry partners about taking forward the report’s recommendations.

Mr Fisher said that achieving optimum nitrogen fertilisation was a complex aspect of farming that industry was working to further improve and deliver outcomes on.
“The report identifies the need to continually communicate with the broader community about the realities of improving NUE. It also reinforces the need to maintain industry’s strong focus on extension, communication and industry engagement,” Mr Fisher said.

“This report underscores the fact that achieving improvements to nitrogen use efficiency is a moving target that industry is continually working to achieve.”

The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) is a key partner and a
significant investor alongside the Australian Government and SRA in improving the quality of water from sub-catchments that drain into the Great Barrier Reef. EHP and SRA are working together to develop a co-investment program that will fund research into improving nitrogen management based on the high priority conclusions and recommendations from the review.

Media contact SRA: Brad Pfeffer 0419 175 815.

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