Farming sugarcane in the lush catchment of the Johnstone River system is not without its challenges. It is one of Queensland’s wettest growing districts and features a rich red soil which, when it is wet, becomes very sticky.
Innisfail district grower Joe Zappala is facing up to the challenges of his location with the help of specially designed farm machinery that keeps pace with environmental best practice in applying sub-surface nutrients to his crop while coping with the sticky soil.
“This red soil sticks very well to the coulters and also because it sticks and it’s not very abrasive, it won’t cut the trash,” Joe explains. “When it doesn’t cut the trash it builds up and binds – it jams!”
But with modifications to the tynes and bigger coulters, developed in conjunction with the equipment’s manufacturer, Joe has been able to get his fertiliser into the soil, under the trash blanket.
The modified fertiliser box and stool splitter is an example of how the Australian Government Reef Programme (formerly known as Reef Rescue) is working with farmers in Queensland’s Wet Tropics to limit the likelihood that nutrient left on top of the soil will wash away into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
The implement is providing productivity gains on top of the environmental benefits.
As well as now that environmental benefit, the implement has given Joe some productivity gains too.
“I’ve gone from two row application to three row application and also with this box I can vary the row spacing from five foot (152cm) out to five foot ten (177cm) and I could put it either beside the stool or split the stool,” he says.
He chooses to split his stools as he takes the opportunity to apply a cane grub control agent in the same pass.
Joe is also playing a role in minimising the impacts of farming on the Great Barrier Reef with his herbicide management too, applying successfully to the Australian Government Reef Programme to co-fund a variable rate spray controller with the aim of cutting down on his herbicide usage.
The system has been installed on a spray unit, modified to be a high rise eight years ago, which has a direct result of improved accuracy in spray rates and efficiency of application.
It’s a win both for the environment and productivity. That also helps him in his hillier country.
“We had just standard controllers that were not very accurate,” Joe says. “So what we’ve done is mount a wheel sensor on the back of the wheel so you’ve got accuracy with your ground speed. Once you’ve got accuracy with your ground speed you start getting accuracy with your application rates.”
When the machine accelerates a bit going downhill, the application rate picks up and when it climbs a hill slowly with a full tank, the application rate slows right down.\
“The accuracy in application is what I was really looking for,” Joe says. “You want to get even application of herbicides.”
The flow control system and tank are coupled with an Irvin Farm spray rig that has been engineered specifically to meet the highest environmental standards.
The ratoon tracking head travels at ground level and the spray bar is constructed with multiple low-drift nozzles to ensure herbicide only goes where it’s needed.
“What we have is what Irvin calls the octopus legs. We have six nozzles on each spray bar – I use ADI low drift nozzles,” he says. “With the variable rate controller it gives me good rate of application, accuracy, run lower pressures so I get less drift.”
Joe has another project in the planning stage, for a dual herbicide sprayer.
His story has been featured as an episode in the latest CANEGROWERS Virtual Bus Tour series – available to view on YouTube by following this link https://bit.ly/1XtDUWM
Source – QLD Regional NRM Groups Collective