In­no­va­tions in

Central Queensland News - - RURAL WEEKLY - Wayne Grif­fin Cane­grow­ers

FOR Mary­bor­ough cane grower Ash­ley Petersen, soil health has be­come some­thing of a pas­sion.

So com­mit­ted is Ash­ley to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of his soil, that he has spent 20 years tri­alling dif­fer­ent farm­ing sys­tems and adopt­ing many of the in­dus­try’s evolv­ing best prac­tices.

In some cases he has led the way with in­no­va­tions of his own.

A fifth-gen­er­a­tion farmer, Ash­ley op­er­ates a 1500 hectare cane, cat­tle and pineap­ple business with his brother David, son Ley­ton and nephew Nathan.

His fa­ther Lloyd also still helps out on the fam­ily farm lo­cated at Her­vey Bay, on the Fraser Coast.

The fam­ily also runs a suc­cess­ful con­tract har­vest­ing business, cut­ting around 1500ha of cane a year.

“We are kept pretty busy all year round,” Ash­ley said, when Australian Cane­grower vis­ited the Petersen fam­ily farm re­cently.

“We nor­mally cut 500ha of our own cane ev­ery year and on top of that there’s the 100ha of legume fal­low, mainly soy­bean, which we take through to har­vest.

“So all up we have about 600ha in cane ro­ta­tion and we’re ex­pand­ing some more each year into our cat­tle coun­try.

“Only 200ha of that is ir­ri­gated, so we’re pretty well skewed to­wards dry-land farm­ing, which hasn’t been good for us this year.”

The Petersens also farm ap­prox­i­mately 40ha of pineap­ples, from which they har­vest 2000 tonnes per year.

Half of this goes to the Golden Cir­cle can­nery in Bris­bane, while the other half goes as fresh fruit to su­per­mar­kets and shops around the coun­try.

In ad­di­tion, the farm runs 350 head of cat­tle, which they pur­chase as weaner steers and take through to the feed­lot stage.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, be­tween cane, cat­tle and pineap­ples, there is not a lot of free time.

But this has not stopped Ash­ley pur­su­ing his pas­sion for im­proved soil health.

It’s a 20-year quest that be­gan with a BSES con­trolled traf­fic, raised bed and high den­sity trial in the 1990s and has cul­mi­nated in the Petersen’s com­pletely chang­ing their farm­ing sys­tem.

One of the most im­por­tant as­pects of this change – the one that took the long­est time to perfect and re­mains the most con­tro­ver­sial – is the row spac­ing.

“For the last 17 years we have been on 2m row cen­tres, with dual rows at 800mm apart,” Ash­ley said.

Row spac­ing is a piv­otal thing for the in­dus­try. It takes up a lot of en­ergy and causes a lot of de­bate and ar­gu­ments, many of which have been go­ing on for 20 years.

“But we’ve tried all of the dif­fer­ent sys­tems and this is def­i­nitely the best sys­tem we’ve had,” he said.

“It’s the best be­cause it’s the sweet spot for plant den­sity. Our plant cane yield has been 8-10% higher than un­der any other sys­tem we’ve tried, and we have tried them all from 1.5-2.4m.

“When you do the eco­nom­ics on it, it’s pretty im­pres­sive. As con­tract har­vesters we har­vest 1500ha of cane a year, 20% of that, around 300ha, is plant cane.

Ash­ley Petersen said in­vest­ment in new equip­ment is im­por­tant to business suc­cess.


CANE BRAIN: Mary­bor­ough cane grower Ash­ley Petersen.

A bird’s eye view of the Mary­bor­ough prop­erty.

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