Understanding water quality in sugarcane farming systems : SRDC final report BSS329
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The ‘new’ sugarcane farming system (reduced tillage, controlled traffic, legume break) has many advantages over the traditional farming system. However, the impact on water quality is not known. This project aimed to address the issue of water-use efficiency and water quality in that farming system by initially comparing it with a traditional farming system (full tillage, non-matched wheel and row spacing etc.) through effects on soil physical properties and their effect on water movement and quality. Specifically, the objectives were: Evaluate the effect of the ‘new’ sugarcane farming system on soil physical properties and the influence on water quality: Determine the N loss mechanisms for different nitrogen management systems in the ‘new’ sugarcane farming system and their impact on water quality. The first year saw an attempt to establish a soybean crop on the Burdekin trial site. That season had way-above-average rainfall and the Steering Committee felt that the results generated would not generally represent a more normal pattern of water application and water and nutrient movement. Due to these limitations, the project was varied to remove the crop after the harvest in 2011, return all plots to soybean and then follow a similar cane planting and monitoring schedule as originally proposed. This set the project back one year. Following the Welsman review, staff resignations and reprioritisation of BSES objectives and assessment of staff capabilities and capacities saw BSES withdraw from the project. However, the trial site forms the ideal basis for and will be used in another project on N mineralisation partially funded under Caring for Our Country, so the input will not be lost.