Project Catalyst Forum – Cairns 24-26 Feb

February 19, 2019

Murray Upper cane farmer George Henry used to spread mill mud to the top of the stool – now he is trialling below-ground application and adding supplements in the root zone.

Mr Henry drills down to 500mm and he says the results are encouraging.

The Tully district farmer is one of more than 100 innovative growers who will be in Cairns next week for the 2019 Project Catalyst Forum, a two-day event bringing farmers, researchers, soil health experts and other agricultural industry representatives together to share cutting-edge farming practices.

He began his trial when electro-magnetic surveys of his paddocks highlighted the extent of low pH levels in sub-soils, and also revealed a lot of aluminium toxicity at sub-surface levels.

“In some soil types, roots were getting burnt off at 200mm,’’ he said. “The pH was root pruning with levels changing from 5.4 to 5.7 in the top 200mm to 4.9pH at 200mm.

“We have five major soil classifications here, ranging from elevated red soil to heavy clay at the lower end of slopes. And the land is in a rain shadow – we receive half the rainfall of Tully - so we wanted to improve moisture retention on our driest blocks.”

Mr Henry is working with T.R.A.P Services’s Charissa Rixon and using a mixture of mill mud and mill ash, applied with a modified spreader that covers three rows at a time. He drilled down to 200mm for supplement application during the first two years of the trial, but has now upped the ante, going to 500mm.

“I don’t expect significant differences yet but we are starting to see what appears to be relatable benefits,’’ he said.

“Now mill mud is applied under the surface there is better vigour, the cane appears to hold on longer in dry times. Another desired outcome is encouraging cane roots to go deeper for moisture during dry periods and access nutrients as they move down the soil profile, to reduce off-farm movements to the Great Barrier Reef.”

Terrain NRM’s Project Catalyst coordinator Michael Waring said Mr Henry’s work would be included in a forum publication, along with the work of several other Wet Tropics growers. Presentations will be made about trials by South Johnstone grower Adrian Darveniza and Tully growers Ray Zamora and Danny Pantovic.

Project Catalyst - a partnership of cane growers, natural resource management groups, the Australian Government, WWF and The Coca-Cola Foundation - supports farmers who are trialling ground-breaking practices that increase productivity and improve water quality.

Growers from Mossman, north of Cairns, to Carmila, south of Mackay, will be at next week’s event. The forum includes virtual farm tours, a heavy focus on soil health and trial updates on everything from biofertilisers to mixed species cover cropping.