Welcome to the Toolbox of Sugar Research Australia’s Soil Health Program

Soil health is vital for optimising productivity, profitability, and sustainability. This site provides practical resources and grower experiences to help you make informed soil health decisions, with consideration for location, your current and potential farming system and economic outcomes. It also provides insight into the research and technology development efforts that are underway to support future decisions.

The Soil Health Program concentrates research to adoption efforts on balancing the three key elements of a healthy soil:

  1. Soil biology. This is the living element of your soil – organisms, microbes and the root system.  It is important for breaking-down organic matter to cycle and supply nutrients, helps in keeping a good soil structure and minimise some pests and diseases.
  2. Soil structure. This is the physical element of your soil. A soil which has good tilth and friability helps provide aeration, water infiltration, moisture management (especially irrigation) and nutrient cycling and supply. It minimises pests and diseases, reduces surface run-off into catchments and provides for greater resilience in extreme weather.
  3. Soil chemistry.  This is the nutritional element of your soil, including Nitrogen (N). Soil chemistry is important because the crop needs certain nutrients, at a certain rate, at a certain time of development. The most cost effective way to supply these nutrients and have them available at the right time is through natural soil processes as much as possible. Soil pH plays an important role in supporting nutrient availability and can be a major constraint in sugarcane soils. The most expensive and labour intensive supply of nutrient is through applied fertiliser. A healthy soil is much more likely to have an active biology community and structure to meet crop demand and minimise losses to waterways and the atmosphere. Measurement is important so that fertiliser precision can be used. The SIX EASY STEPS Guidelines are the industry’s best management practice tool for managing your soil chemistry.

The Soil Health Program is delivering projects under three key themes to improve the soil health condition of our sugarcane regions and demonstrate industry performance in reducing impact – Partnerships for research to adoption connectivity; Building the soil resource; Tools, measurement and analyses.

Information sheet on the Soil Health Program.

 

Location of current soil health projects

Site one

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site two

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site three

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site four

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site five

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site six

Measuring soil health, setting benchmarks, and supporting practice change in the sugar industry

1. Demonstrate the benefits of transition to improved farming systems on soil health, productivity and profitability.

2. Create a soil health knowledge platform and a network of extension and adoption officers with improved capability to transfer knowledge and promote farming system changes.

3. Develop a soil health Toolbox to measure soil health across a range of soil types and farming systems.

4. Establish benchmarks for soil test interpretation.

5. Conduct research to address the root system knowledge gaps.

Read More

Site one

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

The Project aims to assess a range of practical farming practices that may improve soil condition through the addition and management of organic matter. Three farming system trials will be conducted in the project:

  • Establishment of farming system to maximise soil condition
  • Intercropping trials
  • Long-term trash blanketing trials
Read More

Site two

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

The Project aims to assess a range of practical farming practices that may improve soil condition through the addition and management of organic matter. Three farming system trials will be conducted in the project:

  • Establishment of farming system to maximise soil condition
  • Intercropping trials
  • Long-term trash blanketing trials
Read More

Site three

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

The Project aims to assess a range of practical farming practices that may improve soil condition through the addition and management of organic matter. Three farming system trials will be conducted in the project:

  • Establishment of farming system to maximise soil condition
  • Intercropping trials
  • Long-term trash blanketing trials
Read More

Site four (Keilbach intercropping trial)

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

The Project aims to assess a range of practical farming practices that may improve soil condition through the addition and management of organic matter. Three farming system trials will be conducted in the project:

  • Establishment of farming system to maximise soil condition
  • Intercropping trials
  • Long-term trash blanketing trials
Read More

Site five

Establishing sugarcane farming systems to improve soil health

The Project aims to assess a range of practical farming practices that may improve soil condition through the addition and management of organic matter. Three farming system trials will be conducted in the project:

  • Establishment of farming system to maximise soil condition
  • Intercropping trials
  • Long-term trash blanketing trials
Read More

Site one

Implementation of root system diagnostics to deliver a field-based measure for root health

This is a second stage project to implement a root system diagnostic which uses DNA technology called PREDICTA to measure root health in-field. This work is partnering with other SRA Soil Health Program projects by undertaking sample collection and testing on current research sites, primarily located on commercial farms across regions. It is also collaborating with work underway to use PREDICTA technology for detecting pathogens in soils. The final diagnostic tool will contribute to the SRA Soil Health Extension Toolkit.

Read More

Site two

Implementation of root system diagnostics to deliver a field-based measure for root health

This is a second stage project to implement a root system diagnostic which uses DNA technology called PREDICTA to measure root health in-field. This work is partnering with other SRA Soil Health Program projects by undertaking sample collection and testing on current research sites, primarily located on commercial farms across regions. It is also collaborating with work underway to use PREDICTA technology for detecting pathogens in soils. The final diagnostic tool will contribute to the SRA Soil Health Extension Toolkit.

Read More

Site one

Seeing is believing: managing soil variability, improving crop yield and minimising off-site impacts in sugarcane using digital soil mapping

Using digital soil mapping to enable precision agriculture applications of nutrients and amendments using the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines.

Read More

Site two

Seeing is believing: managing soil variability, improving crop yield and minimising off-site impacts in sugarcane using digital soil mapping

Using digital soil mapping to enable precision agriculture applications of nutrients and amendments using the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines.

Read More

Site three

Seeing is believing: managing soil variability, improving crop yield and minimising off-site impacts in sugarcane using digital soil mapping

Using digital soil mapping to enable precision agriculture applications of nutrients and amendments using the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines.

Read More

Site four

Seeing is believing: managing soil variability, improving crop yield and minimising off-site impacts in sugarcane using digital soil mapping

Using digital soil mapping to enable precision agriculture applications of nutrients and amendments using the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines.

Read More

Site one

Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative

Project Uplift is a principal partnership between Growers and MSF Sugar that aims to increase profit and resilience of the sugar industry.

The Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative is the first activity of this partnership and works with the Federal Government Reef Trust to support Growers in the adoption of the SRA Farming System. There are three components to this support:

1. Interest free loans provided for the purchase and modification of machinery required for the adoption of the SRA Farming System;
2. Cash grants of 50% for farm re-design and drainage improvements required for the adoption of the SRA Farming System; and
3. Agronomy support from the MSF Sugar Agronomy Team.

The strategic direction and key decisions of the Project are managed by the Advisory Committee. This committee is chaired by a Grower and includes representatives from Sugar Research Australia, other Growers and MSF Sugar.

Read More

Site two

Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative

Project Uplift is a principal partnership between Growers and MSF Sugar that aims to increase profit and resilience of the sugar industry.

The Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative is the first activity of this partnership and works with the Federal Government Reef Trust to support Growers in the adoption of the SRA Farming System. There are three components to this support:

1. Interest free loans provided for the purchase and modification of machinery required for the adoption of the SRA Farming System;
2. Cash grants of 50% for farm re-design and drainage improvements required for the adoption of the SRA Farming System; and
3. Agronomy support from the MSF Sugar Agronomy Team.

The strategic direction and key decisions of the Project are managed by the Advisory Committee. This committee is chaired by a Grower and includes representatives from Sugar Research Australia, other Growers and MSF Sugar.

Read More

Partnerships for research to adoption connectivity

The Soil Health Program is supporting activities to assist growers understand why soil health is vital and makes good business sense, plan and make decisions on how the current farm system may be changed and increase capability to adopt best management practices. Facilitating better connections between research and adoption across the industry and its regions is a priority of the Program and is delivering more effective co-operation between growers, millers, service organisations and researchers.

Grower case studies

Case studies – BMP Economics (originally from Project 2014015)

BMP case studies on our Farming Systems and Harvesting webpage

Building the soil resource

Addressing ways to improve the health of sugarcane soils by tackling constraints to biology, structure and chemistry is vital. The Soil Health Program is assisting growers and service providers to understand localised production and profit constraints which can be addressed by improved soil health and the most effective and cost efficient management strategies to make this happen in the field.

The research effort is consolidating and refining past work, and also exploring new innovations and working collaboratively with other cropping industries to reduce duplication of effort. At the same time, research is also delivering information relevant to specific regional and sub-regional issues.

NOTE – Information provided may relate to a specific sugarcane growing region, however much of it can be customised for all growing areas. Please contact your local extension officer if you would like to clarify.

Tools, measurement and analyses

The Soil Health Program is supporting research-to-adoption efforts that allow growers and farm advisors to measure and evaluate the impact of different scenarios, make more informed decisions and do this as easily as possible.

The Soil Health Program is also addressing industry need to respond to increasing obligations to demonstrate sustainable production.

Soil Health Extension Toolkit – to come

Soil Health Extension Toolkit – Guidelines for use (written and visual) – to come

Farm Economic Analysis Tool

WinRHIZO Software for evaluating effects of farming systems on sugarcane root system

 

Support

Marguerite White

SRA Soil Health Program Leader, contact for research agencies

Richard Hobbs

Herbert Cane Productivity Services Limited, grower support

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Terry Granshaw

Burdekin Productivity Services, grower support

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Ms Caroline Coppo

Regional Coordinator, Herbert

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Mr Anthony Curro

Reginal Coordinator, Burdekin

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Dr Danielle Skocaj

Senior Researcher - Soils, nutrients, farming systems

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