Eye in the sky: Tully cane grower, Brian Dore, is looking forward to the savings he might achieve with the benefit of satellite technology. Photos supplied.

Aiming high with satellite cane trial

Satellite imagery will be trialled by cane farmers to help improve crop yields in a first for the Wet Tropics cane industry.

Satellite imagery will be trialled by cane farmers to help improve crop yields in a first for the Wet Tropics cane industry. 

Three Tully growers will trial new satellite technology to address crop yield variations within blocks – and they hope it will be a win-win for their businesses and the environment. 

The imagery will be used to identify areas with higher or lower yields in an attempt to tailor fertiliser rates within a cane block to improve profits and reduce runoff. 

One of the growers, Brian Dore, said that improvements in quantity and reliability of data as well as pixel size, scale and image quality, had made satellite and advanced soil-mapping technology worth exploring, potentially leading to more calculated decisions based on facts.   

“We are already managing our farm down to single blocks but we want to see if we can go further and address variabilities within blocks too,” he said.

“We will be using GNDVI satellite imagery in conjunction with advanced soil analysis technologies so that we can align soil variations with yield zone variations.

“Drainage is also an issue. Too little drainage and the cane won’t grow; too much and the cane won’t grow.

“We want to be able to address these issues more precisely and achieve a more uniform yield across blocks and this technology might help to do this.”  

Tully's Brian Dore is looking forward to matching fertiliser inputs more closely to crop requirements, thanks to the satellite trial.

If drainage issues are identified with the technology they will be addressed first, followed by ameliorant application such as lime, and then fertiliser. 

“This technology has been used successfully in other industries so we want to see if it will work with sugar cane in the Wet Tropics. 

“With this information becoming available, this is a great opportunity to find out if we can use it to be more efficient with nutrients and inputs.”

The project is being funded through an Innovation Grants program delivered by the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP) on behalf of the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III initiative to improve water quality to the Great Barrier Reef. 

Joe Marano, WTSIP chairman, said there was a trend in the cane industry towards more tailored use of fertilisers and inputs.   

“Matching inputs more closely to crop requirements has several benefits for growers’ back pockets as well as the environment,” he said.  

“The cane industry is constantly evolving and looking for ways to refine the use of chemical inputs.

“While it’s a lot of work changing farming systems and what works on one farm may not work on another, the technology and data now available present a lot of opportunities to enhance traditional farming methods.” 

T.R.A.P Services will be showcasing this trial at a field day in late January. 

The growers involved in this trial are being provided with technical support by Andrew Robson at University of New England, BMS Lazer Sat, Farmacist and T.R.A.P Services. 

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