Cane farmer breaks new ground with trials

February 6, 2019

South Johnstone cane farmer Adrian Darveniza is breaking new ground – by doing the exact opposite and trialling zero tillage fallow crops and plant cane.

Living in the Wet Tropics, the fourth-generation cane farmer knows only too well the effects of heavy rain on both soil and cane. 

“We have very friable red soil on a hilly property, and there is a risk it will wash away any time you work it in the wet season,’’ he says.  “A lot of farmers in this district have moved away from planting early, which gives us a 12-month crop at best.”

Adrian is comparing late and early plantings as well as zero and minimum tillage in a trial supported by Project Catalyst, a partnership of more than 100 Queensland cane growers, natural resource management groups, the Australian Government, WWF and The Coca-Cola Foundation.

He didn’t work the ground up at all for his soybean fallow crop last year and he has zero tillage sections of the cane crop that followed. The trial consists of zero tillage and minimum tillage plant cane that went into the ground in May, and minimum tillage plant cane from a late August planting.

“We trialled minimum tillage with a wavy disc cultivator, going down about 3cm to make it that little bit easier to manage,’’ Adrian said.

“We planted the early sections when it was really wet. It rained for about two months before a big dry spell, but the soil seems to have retained its moisture better not having been disturbed and the cane pushed through.”

He is hoping the early planting will result in better yields due to the longer crop cycle, as well as time and cost-savings that are already apparent. He is also expecting water quality benefits, with the farm bordering the Johnstone River.

“I’m saving my topsoil and getting a better outcome for water quality – and that’s an important bonus,’’ he said.

“The friable soils here still give us enough soil-to-cane contact with zero or minimum tillage – the soil crumbles easily and lumps that roll back into the small furrow are squashed with the press wheel.

“This wouldn’t work for all soil types but it’s looking promising in this area and could be explored in other types of soils that aren’t compacted and have had a light cultivation.”

The trial follows other farming changes on the Darveniza property. These range from cover-cropping and controlled traffic to reducing synthetic nitrogen use in plant crops by 70-90kg/ha through legume cover cropping, and reducing it by 40kg/ha in the rest of the ratoon crop through a sub-surface fertilising system, mill mud application and tailoring nitrogen usage to each block based on the soil and crop needs.

Adrian will be presenting at a Project Catalyst Forum in Cairns next month (MARCH), which will bring together up to 200 cane farmers from all over North Queensland.

Project Catalyst supports growers who are trialling groundbreaking farming practices that increase productivity and improve water quality. 

For more information, phone Terrain NRM’s Michael Waring on 0428 771 361.