Farming in the Great Barrier Reef catchment comes with a significant responsibility to be environmentally conscious, something that Frank Mugica has taken in his stride.
So much so, that he was nominated as a finalist for the Prince of Wales Reef Conservation award and the Reef Champion Stewardship Award in the 2018 Reef Championship Awards.
Frank Mugica runs “Mugica Farms”, Brandon, a furrow irrigated sugar cane production.
Since 2014, Mr Mugica has been an eager participant of Project Catalyst, a grower lead program partnered with Coca Cola WWF and the Australian Government, working to improve water quality from agricultural catchments that flows into the Great Barrier Reef.
The project encourages and assists farmers in increasing water use efficiency, preventing runoff and reducing application of nutrients and pesticides.
Mr Mugica recycles his irrigation water, capturing his irrigation water and putting it back into his farm instead of letting it run into the reef.
He felt as though he could do more to lessen his impact on the reef though and started seeking ways to better manage his soils, a key element of Project Catalyst’s work.
His solution to better understanding his soils was Vantage NEA’s Soil Information System (SiS).
The SiS process differs from traditional soil testing methods, as it uses EM mapping in conjunction with high resolution topographic technology to determine areas of variability in a field.
These locations are then tested with a unique soil probe and undisturbed soil cores are taken to a lab to be analysed.
The post processed soil maps created from the SiS results provide spatial context and relevance to soil information, allowing growers to understand their soil limitations and to develop accurate Variable Rate (VR) prescriptions to amend them.
Mr Mugica said he was always eager to try VR application and the SiS data he received gave him the confidence to do it.
Vantage NEA’s precision agronomist, Bryan Granshaw used the data to highlight regions in Frank’s paddock that had high sodicity levels
They developed a gypsum prescription rate of between 0.60 to 3 t/ha to decrease sodicity.
Having SiS analysis conducted has already paid for itself twice over, Mr. Mugica said, with the proof lying in more consistent yields.
“The Variable Rate prescription meant I received about a tonne more of cane per hectare, working out at about $350/ha more,” he said.
It’s also coincided with Mr Mugica’s environmental goals, as he’s been able to become more accurate with his input application.
This has meant he’s been able to use less inputs and only apply what his soil needs, ensuring better absorption and increasing soil health.
“It’s completely eliminated any guess work,” he said.
Since Mr. Mugica received his SiS data back, he said he’s been using it to make better management decisions across the whole farm.
“I’ve been able to use the data to determine things like what fertiliser I should be using, my cane variety selection and how to best manage my water,” he said.
In addition to identifying high sodic areas, the unique ability of SiS to classify soil groups and collect undisturbed soil cores down to 1200mm has allowed Mr Mugica’s agronomist to detect soil deficiencies that traditional soil analysis had not revealed.
Mr Mugica was then able to work with his agronomist to configure VR prescriptions for his other inputs like Lime, to correct PH imbalances and mil mud and ash, to increase his organic carbon.
He’s also using the data to better manage his irrigation and minimize soil saturation.
Bryan Granshaw and Mr. Mugica looked over five different SiS data layers relating to plant available water and split the farm into four major zones with differing moisture holding capacity.
They then installed a moisture probe into each zone.
Mr. Mugica is now able to closely monitor his soil’s moisture requirements, allowing him to make better irrigation decisions.
“This will help me further reduce my run off and prevent me from over irrigating,” he said.