Overcoming on-farm constraints to productivity and profitability in a wet tropical area
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The CCS in the wet tropics has been declining steadily for over three decades, a period in which green cane harvesting-trash blanketing (GCTB) has become standard practice among growers throughout the wet tropics. In the Babinda Mill region, where this situation is most acute, it has been hypothesised that a part of the low CCS problem is due to the effect of GCTB in increasing soil moisture and soil fertility, which aggravates lodging and suckering in the crop and restricts the opportunity for drying crops out. During the 1990’s Babinda growers were assessing alternative management systems to overcome some of these perceived problems associated with trash blanketing. This project aimed to implement best-bet initiatives to overcome problems associated with trash blanketing, and so improve productivity and profitability in a wet tropics environment. The project was directed by stakeholders and conducted using a participative approach. There were four interrelated ‘strands’ of activity undertaken in this project: 1. Liaison and interaction with Babinda growers and the wider industry, achieved through establishment of a Grower Management Group, conducting all trials on farms (as opposed to research stations), distributing regular newsletters and holding regular bus tours and shed meetings to view demonstration sites and discuss trial results. 2. Demonstration of ‘best-bet’ trash management practices (for improved profitability). Trials were established on four farms comparing the impact of raking trash from the stool and/or incorporating it into the soil. 3. Exploration of improved nitrogen fertiliser placement (for improved profitability). Trials were established on two farms comparing different placement of N fertiliser (in the ground or on the trash blanket) and different N carriers (urea and Nitram). 4. Determination of soil and plant nitrogen status in response to different soils and/or management practices. Soil and crop N status were determined in all trials and a survey of amino-N in juice from sugarcane (a good indicator deficiency and over-supply of N to the crop) from all blocks on eight farms in the region. The trash management trial sites consistently failed to demonstrate any advantage of either raking trash from the stool, incorporating trash into the soil, or doing both. Thus the extra cost of purchasing and operating a trash rake is not justified. At one site, in a flood prone area where trash blanketing is impractical, trash burning consistently gave higher yields than trash raking and incorporation. This result suggests that raking and incorporation of trash is economically disadvantageous, in the short term, in these areas. However, damage to the stool during raking caused the lower yields in the raked incorporated treatments at this site and improved methods of raking trash may overcome this problem.