Sugar Cane Success Story, QLD

Sugar Cane Success Story, QLD

The increasing area of drip irrigated sugar in the Burdekin region is part of a global trend in this method of growing sugar, according to Yoram Krontal, agronomist in charge of sugar cane crops for Netafim globally.

 

Mr Krontal, who worked with sugar growers in Brazil for six years before moving home to Israel, visited North Queensland for the recent 2012 ISSCT conference in Townsville. 

 

“I believe the rate of growth for drip irrigated sugar cane globally is about 20,000 hectares per year. Some of the larger projects are in South America – Peru and Brazil. There is also a very nice project in Swaziland, in Southern Africa,” Mr Krontal said. 

 

In the Burdekin, one of the major drip irrigated sugar projects is the 350ha Oaky farm, owned by Davco farming. Evan Shannon, Davco manager, said there was more potential for drip irrigation in sugar in the region, particularly in newer developments or farms that needed reworking. 

 

“In this area there are certainly blocks under furrow irrigation that are having problems now – some of them need levelling,’’ he said. “If you have got an alluvial soil in the delta of the Burdekin and you have got to open up topsoil and level subsoil, you could spend $6000-$7000/ha easily. 

 

In a situation like this (drip irrigation), you are going to spend about that – so it’s the same cost but you can do things in a very precise manner.’’ Mr Shannon is a grower with an eye to sustainable production. 


“As our environmental stewardship is going to be looked at more and more closely, I think we can move drip irrigation into some examples where we shouldn’t be using our current irrigation systems.’’ 
Aaron Linton is another grower who agrees there is much potential for drip irrigated sugar in the Burdekin. He converted a 40ha furrow irrigated block at Home Hill to drip irrigation last year. 
“This whole farm was five blocks flood irrigated through plastic fluming. It was very inefficient,” he said. “The whole farm drained to the middle. I thought that this was unmanageable – I had to do something. 
“We did a few calculations of different ways we could laser the block for furrow irrigation with infrastructure for pipelines and recycle pits, and it didn’t come out too much less expensive than drip, if at all. 


By the time I lasered the ground properly for the right grade for the proper soakage, it would probably work out a lot more expensive.’’ 


For Mr Linton, there are other significant benefits to his irrigation system. “I can run the system on my phone from wherever I am. Just the other day I was sailing. 


We had a minute so I started my pump and checked all my moisture probes while I was out on the water.” One of the pioneers of sugar on drip in the Burdekin area was Paul Villis. With a background in vegetable growing, Mr Villis was no stranger to drip irrigation. His first drip irrigated block was installed in 2008. 


He has compared the furrow and drip irrigated blocks on his farm and found a consistent yield increase of around 25 per cent more cane and 21pc more sugar with drip. 


In addition, the amount of nitrogen fertiliser applied has been cut back from 188 kilograms/ha to 84kg/ha with no reduction in yield.

 
“We are still progressing with the drip, but we have had some very positive results so far, with around 30 tonnes/ha increase in cane yield over the flood irrigated blocks. This has been consistently replicated over four years,” Mr Villis said. 


Mr Krontal has been impressed with the developments in the Burdekin region and pointed out that local growers have not been alone in their results. 


“We find around the world that with drip irrigation, we can save about 30-40pc of the water that is applied and yield is increased by about 20-30pc,’’ he said. “Another benefit is the extended ratoon life. When carrying out feasibility studies for drip irrigated sugar cane, we allow for eight ratoons. 


“I think these three reasons – saving water, increasing yields and saving re-establishment in the field – are very good reasons to go for drip.’’

 

 

 

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