Tully's sweet data

Sugar Research Australia aggregates canegrower data for advances


Cropping
On the same page: Information sharing has led to significant cane growing advances in the Tully region, according to Tully Canegrowers chairman Tom Harney. Picture: supplied.

On the same page: Information sharing has led to significant cane growing advances in the Tully region, according to Tully Canegrowers chairman Tom Harney. Picture: supplied.

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Productivity gains in the Tully region are a welcome spot of good news for the embattled sugar industry.

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Productivity gains in the Tully region are a welcome spot of good news for the embattled sugar industry.

Data from Sugar Research Australia has revealed that since 2012 there has been an additional 8000 hectares under cane in Tully's southern sub-district, resulting in record seasons for some growers.

With the Tully mill operating at near record capacity for the past few years, the driving focus for growers has shifted to cane quality.

Helping growers cope with the extreme climate variability of the region has been one of the benefits of the SRA project that is aggregating data from a variety of sources.

Figures presented by Dr Joanne Stringer at the Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists conference showed the amount of hectares planted between 1990 and 2005 increased to 25,000ha and the amount of cane delivered increased from 1.1m to 2.5m tonnes.

One of the slides presented by Dr Stringer illustrating Tully Mill productivity advances.

One of the slides presented by Dr Stringer illustrating Tully Mill productivity advances.

Massive rainfall events in 1998-9, when 6000mm was recorded, and the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi in 2011 had dramatic effects on the tonnes delivered, with some 14pc of the crop left to standover.

Previous research has identified two climate zones, a wetter zone north of the Tully River with lower radiation, lower temperatures and higher rainfall, and the drier zone to the south, which means that cane and sugar yields vary greatly.

Dr Stringer said using spring-summer rainfall and oceanic ENSO data, they had determined that sugar yield in wet years was significantly less than in dry and normal ones.

A map showing two distinct climate zones in the Tully growing region.

A map showing two distinct climate zones in the Tully growing region.

"Wet years are more variable than dry and normal ones," she said.

"And the sugar yields in La Nina years were significantly less than in neutral and El Nino years, for both climate zones."

Dr Stringer said cane quality was a driving issue in the face of that and her challenge had been to see if linking data sets would be able to improve industry decisions and generate efficiencies.

Canegrowers Tully chairman Tom Harney said Dr Stringer's work had been valuable.

"If you've got a problem you don't want to wait until it gets too big," he said.

"It's important for productivity. Say you've got 100 growers - you want to look at what the top 20 are doing better.

"It's hard to lift the top 20 up further but bringing the bottom 20 up a long way lifts averages."

With a 30,000ha harvestable area available, Mr Harney said there was plenty of interest in sharing information.

He made reference to the self-funded and volunteer variety management group managed by Greg Shannon.

"One of the farmers will say that a particular type of cane grew well on a wet block, so then they decide to trial it under proper research conditions," he said.

"If something's good, you want to know early, the same as if something's not working well.

"We have the added complication of being next to the Great Barrier Reef so we have to factor rain events in.

"If we know big rain is coming we'll hold off applying fertiliser."

Among the numbers being crunched in Dr Stringer's research is variety performance, information on fallow blocks, cane quality data, effective bulk density, GPS tracking data that contains information on harvester ground speed and pour rate, CSIRO soil layers, and disease surveys.

She said they were planning to link data from drone technology and remote sensing, and involve agronomists, soil scientists and extension advisers.

"For a variable like CCS and certainly fibre, which have to be weighed by tonnes to get data at the farm, it's very important.

"To me it's is ensuring data accuracy - we're all on the same page, we all have the same subset."

Dr Stringer said the analysis would result in individual productivity reports, and would assist industry extension programs and on-farm management decisions, especially around fertiliser application before the onset of the wet season in the northern zone.

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