Improving planting systems for sugarcane : SRDC final report BSS208
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This project has researched the major factors affecting the establishment of a sugarcane crop. Adoption of a systems approach has resulted in an improved planting system that matches the requirements of the growing of seed cane, production of high-quality billets and meters and places the billets at rates to ensure optimum crop yields.It was initially realised that the supply of high-quality seed billets was critical to ensure an improvement in the planting system of sugarcane. Developing recommendations for growers to produce the high-quality, disease-free seed sugarcane suitable for planting billets was an essential requirement. Many cane treatments and additives were trialled, but many effective treatments were found not to be cost effective. However, many tasks were identified that growers can undertake to ensure sound and erect planting cane. The machine cutting of plants has previously been a major deficiency as mechanised harvesters were not developed to cut high quality, low damage billets. This project has quantified the requirements of a seed billet-cutting harvester and machine modifications were field tested. Sound recommendations for growing planting cane and cutting this cane to produce sound billets have been developed and extended to the industry. The development of recommendations for high-quality seed billets is a major success of this project.The project has successfully undertaken the first detailed review of the requirements and current operational performance of current billet planters. An improved billet-metering system, the first truly precision metering of billets, was developed as a replacement from the crude mass-flow metering systems of various form used by the sugarcane industry. Planter characteristics, such as billet drop height, have been addressed, as has matching the billet meter to minimum-soil-disturbance planter components.One critical operational requirement that this precision billet-metering system had to fulfil was to be compatible with the planting characteristics of the double-disc groundtool developed by BSES. This goal was achieved, and a prototype billet planter produced that incorporated the double-disc opener and the precision billet-metering system. This system allows planting rates to be halved compared to the rates of current billet planters, but the use of high-quality seed billets is an essential requirement of this new system. The developed metering system is a radical departure from the elevating slat-type meters current used on all billet planters and commercialisation of this planting system must be carefully planned.When proposed, a significant outcome of this project was to investigate and develop technologies to protect planting billets by coatings that would prevent the ingress of rotting diseases and slow desiccation of the billet. Much knowledge has been acquired and future studies are suggested, but current technology is not considered suitable for commercial usage.Adoption of all the technologies developed within this project will take time, but industry awareness of the need for change is high. The adoption process is well advanced, although adoption varies between canegrowing regions. Due to the current state of the sugarcane industry, adoption will occur in a series of steps, but this is considered appropriate, as growers can learn as they adopt new components of the system. Certain components of the system must be adopted prior to others. For example, the production of high-quality planting billets is an essential requirement, but is applicable to all growers irrespective of what type of planter they use.This project clearly illustrates the value of a multi-discipline team adopting a systems approach to a major sugarcane industry problem.