Trials and Research: The Driving Force to On Farm Change

Sugarcane farmer, George Henry, “Burrakin”, Murray Upper, has looked beyond traditional soil testing methods to identify and understand the limiting factors of his soils.

Precision agriculture has been a driving force to increasing efficiency for George, who has been operating on a controlled traffic regime since 1988 and a minimum till program since 2004.

Back in the 2000s, George was the North Queensland representative for Dr Allan Garside’s study, “Managing yield decline in sugarcane cropping systems”, a paper summarising the results from ten years of yield decline research in the sugarcane industry.

“Trials, results and research have influenced the way I farm,” he said.

Yield variation was a key concern for George, who said he wanted to identify soil limitations in the lower performing areas of his farm.

His answer was to try Trimble Agriculture’s Soil Information System (SiS), a unique soil surveying method that obtains over 50 layers of chemical and physical soil data from a surface and subsurface level (to a depth of 1200mm).

SiS uses electromagnetic induction sensing and the topography of soil and processes soil maps using intelligent, targeted algorithms to pinpoint areas of variation within a paddock.

Vantage NEA precision agronomist, Bryan Granshaw, conducted two rounds of SiS analysis on George’s property, identifying acidity issues, caused from low PH levels and toxicity, caused by high aluminium levels as the limiting factors of his surveyed paddocks.

Using the layer of data provided by SiS that reflected exchangeable aluminium, Bryan said they were able to discover the magnitude and extent of aluminium toxicity in George’s paddocks.

“We were able to show exactly where the toxicity was occurring and the level of it,” he said.

Since George has discovered what’s causing the yield variability, he’s established a field trial, with the support of Charissa Rixon, T.R.A.P Services, Tully, to try and identify the best way to manage his soil issues.

George said having SiS analysis was clarifying, as it identified where in his paddocks there were issues and to what extent they were occurring,

“It’s firmed in my mind what my challenge is,” he said.

“Now I need to work out how best to overcome it.”

Traditional soil testing methods in sugarcane involve taking samples to a depth of 20cm.

The fact SiS collects soil information to a depth of 1200mm has been beneficial for George, as his acidity issues were occurring at below the traditional soil testing depth.

Charissa said George is trialling the application of Mill Mud at depth, in hope that the high calcium load and organic matter would improve the plant’s growing environment.

“We’re hoping the Mill Mud will raise the soil pH in the plants root zone and assist with plant establishment and the organic matter in the Mill Mud will help improve soil biology in the root zone and then slowly spread further into the soil, helping to address the soil pH” she said.

All of George’s paddocks are on a dual row system, with two rows, 600mm apart, and wheel spacings at 1.9m 

He is trialling banding the Mill Mud at 25 tonnes per hectare directly into the cane drill before planting.

In the future, George said he wanted to start applying Mill Mud via variable rate, using the SiS data to develop prescription maps in conjunction with other layers of farm data.

George and Charissa plan to assess the effectiveness of the Mill Mud application using future yield maps.

Charissa said she was also planning to overlay the SiS data with yield maps and satellite imagery of George’s property, to further refine and identify the better and poorer sections of his farm.

“SiS has been a good tool in helping to identify issues in problem areas, as it provides information on things like water infiltration and compaction, as well as a nutritional break down of soil from depth,” she said.

George said SiS has given him a good starting point to improving his farm’s productivity.

For more information on SiS, please call Vantage NEA on 1300TRIMBLE

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