World first technology available for Far North's cane growers

Cane growers can monitor water quality with new app

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CSIRO intern Rob Lucas uses a drone to monitor conditions on a cane farm.

CSIRO intern Rob Lucas uses a drone to monitor conditions on a cane farm.

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Cane growers from Cairns to Mackay will be better able to monitor nitrogen run-off and regulate fertiliser use accordingly with a new app.

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CANE growers from Cairns to Mackay will be better able to monitor nitrogen run-off and regulate fertiliser use accordingly with a new app developed by the CSIRO.

The free app, named 1622WQ, shows the concentration of nitrogen in local waterways in real time, meaning farmers can access water quality information in relation to their management practices.

The app was launched in Cairns today, where growers were interested to learn of the new technology.

CSIRO agricultural scientist and 1622WQ project leader Dr Peter Thorburn said the new app was co-designed with farmers to meet their needs.

"Sugarcane growers told us they wanted quick and easy access to water quality information, so they could find out what's going on with their crops and make better decisions," Dr Thorburn said.

"Although an app can appear simple, the smarts behind it are anything but. The chain of information between the water quality sensors in local waterways and what you see on your phone is complex and requires substantial innovation along the way."

The app shows data on nitrate concentrations from high frequency automatic sensors deployed in selected coastal catchments."

Data drawn from waterways from Far North Queensland to Mackay is included in the app and Dr Thorburn said more water courses could be added as water quality sensors were installed.

He said the data would be incredibly useful after it has rained, when nitrogen fertilser was washed into waterways, wasting both farmers' money and threatening the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Canegrowers Cairns chairman Stephen Calcagno has started using the app and said it would be useful for farmers in the region.

"This will be a great tool for farmers to see the impact of their farm management and help them improve their practises and the environment," Mr Calcagno said.

"I look forward to seeing what happens over the coming wet season."

CSIRO Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley said the app brought together decades of agricultural expertise and close industry relationships with advanced digital technologies.

"We've paired our deep domain expertise in agriculture with digital technology to provide a solution for farmers who want to remain efficient and competitive while also reducing their impact on the environment," Dr Foley said.

"Solving complex challenges like protecting the Great Barrier Reef require deep innovation, but it's also important that the end result is a simple and intuitive product like this app, that farmers can seamlessly integrate into their business."

New ways to predict water quality in the days or weeks ahead based on artificial intelligence, something that's never been done before, are also in the pipeline.

CSIRO is also building other aspects of importance to sugarcane growers into a suite of 1622 apps, such as fine-tuning which parts of a crop might need more or less fertiliser, and comparing different fertiliser application rates on crop performance and environmental impact before they even plant.

Dr Thorburn said the technology could be expanded to inform other agricultural practices.

"Sugarcane is the first farming system we've looked at, but we could deploy it in any area where real time water quality data could help inform agricultural practices," Dr Thorburn said.

The view the app visit https://1622.farm/

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