Irrigation innovation hubs are being established in key sugar cane growing regions in a bid to help farmers better manage their crops and increase profitability.

Cane growers in the Burdekin district are teaming up with researchers from the University of Southern Queensland with the aim to produce bigger yields through irrigation management.

USQ project lead Michael Scobie is working with a range of experts to develop the skills and capacity of local extension and service providers which will ultimately help farmers produce more cane.

“This project is really looking at helping people involved in the sugar cane industry get better at managing, understanding and assessing their irrigation assistance performance,” Mr Scobie said.

“The idea is to build up the capacity for people who are existing and working in this industry.

“From consultants to extension officers, individuals work one-on-one with our researchers to develop their skills.

“Whether it’s assessing pumps and irrigation systems, developing new technologies or implementing better strategies to reduce water loss, it’ll mean delivering bigger profits for sugar cane growers.”

Sugar cane is one of Australia’s biggest and thirstiest crops, with an estimated 160,000 hectares under irrigation, lapping up millions of litres of water a year.

The project is part of a broader scheme – the Australian Government’s Smarter Irrigation for Profit (Phase 2) – which brings together experts to improve irrigation performance across cotton, grains, sugar cane, dairy and rice industries.

USQ’s Dr Malcolm Gillies is working on a project to modernise the labour intensive process of furrow irrigation.

It builds on a Sugar Research Australia funded project in the Burdekin four years ago, which saw growers successfully move to automation.

Since then, there has been additional investment in furrow automation systems and Dr Gillies said researchers were looking to see if the learnings could be applied further south.

“USQ is working with growers across the Bundaberg and Burdekin regions to… see if the automation of systems is feasible and secondly to see which technologies are applicable and to see whether the economics stack up,” Dr Gillies said.

“As part of the… program we’re working across multiple industries so some of the learnings we have made in the cotton industry we are transferring those to the sugar industry.

“There is a large range of new technologies and new equipment becoming available and our role as researchers is to help growers use that technology to its best advantage.”

Mr Scobie said the sugar industry faced difficult issues including challenging weather conditions and low world sugar prices, which could reduce productivity and profitablity.

“Improving irrigation and water management on the farm, is one key approach to making sure that the industry remains vibrant and viable.”