Mill mud and ash shows promise on sodic soils

Improving land productivity with sub-surface mill mud


TRIAL WORK: Phil Deguara is one of many cane farmers working towards increasing the productivity of their land. Photo Roff Smith.

TRIAL WORK: Phil Deguara is one of many cane farmers working towards increasing the productivity of their land. Photo Roff Smith.

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Mill mud is being trialled with a deep sub-surface application at a cane farm near Eton, south west of Mackay, with promising results.

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MILL mud is being trialled with a deep sub-surface application at a cane farm near Eton, south west of Mackay, with promising results. 

Phil Deguara is a fourth generation farmer, and works alongside his father John at their 300 hectare cane farm. 

Mr Deguara said the family operation is focused predominantly on cane, but they also grow soybeans and mungbeans in rotation. 

With about 10 per cent of the property having sodic or low-yielding soil, Mr Deguara said he began looking at ways to improve the productivity of the land about ten years ago.

Phil, Lucy, Ricky, and John.

Phil, Lucy, Ricky, and John.

He became involved with Project Catalyst, a partnership between more than 70 Queensland cane growers and major program partners including Reef Catchments, Terrain Natural Resource Management, NQ Dry Tropics, the Federal Government, World Wildlife Fund and The Coca-Cola Foundation.

Mr Deguara said since becoming involved with the group, his farm has been used in numerous trials. 

Now looking at sub-surface application of mill mud and ash in an attempt to increase production, Mr Deguara said the early results were so promising he had also started applying the practice on his productive soils. 

“We’ve also just started doing the trial work in our better soils as well,” he said. 

In 2016 there was a small trial plot that saw an increase of about 10 to 15 tonnes to the hectare. 

At the end of this year, a commercial trial on a large scale will be conducted on the farm. 

Mr Deguara said he is currently expecting to be harvesting cane in late May, and will begin harvesting soybeans in about four weeks. 

Project Catalyst coordinator Craig Davenport (Catchment Solutions) said the project was continuing to prove relevant to farmers.

“We’re looking beyond 2020, at where innovation is going and exploring new technology like robotics and remote sensing to support our growers,” he said. 

“What once seemed futuristic is now becoming readily available at a rapid pace.”

Mr Deguara agreed, and said he had never seen technology so readily available and accessible.

“Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper,” he said. 

“We’ve had GPS on our tractor for 10 years, but now we’ve got three tractors set up and the harvester.

“All our major in-field work is done on GPS and we’re using variable rate controllers on our spray rig and fertiliser applicators.

“We’re also doing in-field monitoring of moisture for irrigation, with sensors in the ground that come back to the computer so we can monitor when to irrigate and how much to use.” 

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