Developing extended fallow options for the Plane Creek district : SRA Grower Group Innovation Project final report
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At the time of initiation of this project, sugarcane lands were being lost to cattle grazing, tree production and hobby farms due to the low returns being experienced for sugarcane. The low sugarcane returns were a product of both poor productivity and low sugar prices. This loss of land was affecting the viability of the local sugar mill on which all other local sugar growers relied for processing their crop. This project aimed to evaluate the role of an extended fallow for improving sugarcane productivity and improving farm viability by introducing cash crops in the extended fallow period. An evaluation, including data gathering from experienced grain industry agronomists, seed supplier companies and grain purchasers was undertaken to evaluate a broad suite of crops as potential crop candidates. Evaluation included likely suitability for the regions’ climate, potential gross margins, key agronomic traits, pest and disease limitations and proximity to markets. The project established a series of field trials aimed at evaluating the most promising crop options from the desktop study. Crop options evaluated in the field included grain sorghum, maize, sweet sorghum, mungbean, linseed, sugarbeet, soybean, chickpea, forage sorghum and lab lab. Seasonal conditions prevented most crops from producing a harvestable yield during the two years of this project, but sugarbeet, chickpea, linseed and forage sorghum hay was produced from different sites. Following crop option evaluation, the most promising crops (chickpea, soybean, mungbean, sugarbeet, linseed) were planted into commercial scale evaluation strips and compared to a standard short fallow practice. A range of service providers participated in the project at different stages – including CSR Plane Creek mill provided ccs determination, local Landmark staff provided crop protection products and linkages to seed suppliers and expertise, Syngenta seeds provided two tropical sugarbeet varieties for evaluation, QDAFF staff provided economic evaluation and Lindeman and Associates provided assistance with crop sequence planning. Plant cane yields improved by 18 to 38% from an extended fallow break at the W1 trial site, when compared to a standard short fallow. However, this improvement in cane yield did not persist into first ratoon for most treatments. With poor seasonal conditions preventing a harvestable yield from most crops, gross margins from the extended breaks were poorer than for the standard short fallow. Further work is recommended to improve reliability of alternative crops in this region.