Land management for sugarcane farms

Learn how to adopt farming practices that reduce soil, nutrient and pesticide run-off.

Protect reef catchments

Follow industry best practice

Smartcane BMP is the voluntary best management practice (BMP) program for the sugarcane industry.

Use the free FEAT Online tool to measure farm profit and evaluate different farming system changes. You can test different farming options before making a financial commitment.

Reduce nutrient run-off

Effective nutrient management can improve farm productivity and profitability and reduce losses to the Reef.

Matching nitrogen applications to crop requirements reduces nitrogen losses. Nutrients from sources such as legumes and mill mud may substantially increase nutrient surpluses and have water quality impacts.

Follow the Six easy steps program guidelines:

  1. Know and understand your soils.
  2. Understand and manage nutrient processes and losses.
  3. Regular soil testing.
  4. Adopt soil-specific nutrient management guidelines.
  5. Check on the adequacy of nutrient inputs.
  6. Monitor and keep good records to modify nutrient inputs when and where necessary.

The program helps you:

The Complete Nutrient Management Planning for Cane Farming project worked with sugarcane growers to adjust their nitrogen rates without compromising productivity and profitability. The project is based on a previous Sugar Research Australia project RP20 Burdekin Nitrogen Trials (PDF, 6.30MB) which tested the Six easy steps guidelines for applying nitrogen.

Optimise irrigation

Use tools (e.g. soil moisture probes, automation and irrigation software) that can help schedule and apply the right amount of irrigation water to match the water holding capacity of the soil.

Drip irrigation or overhead irrigation may have better water use efficiency than furrow irrigation. If you are using a furrow system, consider the shape and length of the furrow for your soil types to minimise deep drainage and run-off.

Recycle pits should be located on suitable soil types and have sufficient free storage to capture run-off.

A paddock trial in the Burdekin tested the production and profitability benefits of converting from furrow to drip irrigation.

Protect waterways

Treatment wetlands, sediment basins, vegetated drains and bioreactors improve water quality on farms by:

  • slowing water flows and reducing the volume of water leaving the farm
  • trapping and removing nutrients, sediments and pesticides from run-off or shallow groundwater
  • decreasing erosion.

Revegetating riparian zones and fixing eroded creek banks helps to:

  • minimise sediment and nutrient run-off
  • protect the farm from erosion
  • improve pest control
  • provide habitat for wildlife.

Manage chemicals safely

Follow the controls on chemical use guidelines when using agricultural chemicals.

Apply herbicides effectively

  • Monitor weed populations to apply herbicide during early growth.
  • Read the label of the chemical to determine the correct rates, timing or other restrictions.
  • Consider whether residual herbicides are necessary or if knockdown products could achieve the same result.
  • Calibrate the spray rig regularly, monitor the pressure gauge and check for leaks.
  • Band spray herbicides using hooded or directed spraying equipment to reduce the use of residuals.

Improve your farming practices

Reduce pesticide use

  • Use an integrated pest management program (IPM) to control pests over the whole crop cycle.
  • Break the disease and pest cycle to prevent spread (e.g. by introducing fallow crop).
  • Retain a trash blanket to suppress weeds and reduce herbicides.
  • Manage the risk of introducing or spreading pests, weeds and diseases by washing down your equipment.
  • Monitor pest levels to ensure management strategies are effective.
  • Understand pests, diseases and weeds that are potential problems on your farm.

Maintain soil health

Use FertFinder to find the right fertiliser blend that matches the nutritional requirements in your paddock.

Soil testing will help you calculate the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to apply to crops, saving money and reducing the risk of surplus nutrients ending up in waterways.

The 1622WQ app displays nitrogen losses at multiple sites within an agricultural catchment. Compare multiple locations within a catchment to see:

  • the influence of recent rainfall on water quality
  • how water quality differs between locations
  • whether management actions such as recent fertilising has affected nitrogen losses
  • other aspects of water quality such as creek height and turbidity.

Read research and best practice:

Learn from case studies

Read case studies about other growers:

Growers who participated in the Complete Nutrient Management Planning trial share how tailor-made whole-farm nutrient plans and specialised one on one advice have improved their farming production, their profitability and the Reef water quality.

  • Central Queensland—Growers in Central Queensland share how the RP161 project has improved their farming production, their profitability and the Reef water quality.
  • Mackay—Shane Peterson talks about how he has adjusted his nitrogen rates to improve his crop and the Reef water quality.
  • Calen—Dale and Karinda Anderson share how they have improved their crop and the Reef water quality by reducing nutrient run-off to local waterways.
  • Brightly—Andrew Vassallo talks about how adjusting his nitrogen rates has improved profitability, productivity and the Reef water quality.
  • Belmunda—Alan Farquhar shares how he has improved his crop and the Reef water quality by reducing nutrient run-off into the Reef.