Cane soil sense cuts risk of reef damage
INGHAM farmer Fred Gangemi didn’t think it could be done, but he is growing heavier cane and saving the Great Barrier Reef at the same time.
It is a success story based on a soilfriendly regimen of legumes and nutrients that is seeing him increase cane production from around 113 tonnes to the hectare to 150- 175 tonnes.
“And I think I’m being conservative with those figures. I’m stoked with the results,” Mr Gangemi said.
It has been a trip and a half, getting to where he is now and has involved listening to advice given by Rod Karger, a former soil agronomist with Horticulture South Australia.
Mr Karger, a Townsville- based consultant, is a man on a mission.
He wants to eliminate the debilitat- ing crop disease Yellow Canopy Syndrome from the sugar cane industry.
Not only does he want to do that, but he wants to increase production figures as well. As far as Mr Gangemi is concerned, he is on track.
“I’ve got heavy cane and no Yellow Canopy Syndrome,” he said.
By following Mr Karger’s recipe for rehabilitating soil and improving crop yields, Mr Gangemi hopes he is on the pathway to a new farming frontier.
Mr Karger’s approach to beating disease and improving returns is based around a system of applying lime, growing legumes and establishing trace elements in the soil.
“What I’ve found with a lot of cane country I’ve dealt is with is that the soils are very acidic. The issue is the biological life or lack of it in the soil,” he said.
Mr Gangemi planted the legume known as marenga in his paddock and ploughed it under in order to improve the organic composition of the soil.
Now he has earthworms and other microfauna working away night and day, improving his soil structure.
He prepared a 16.8ha paddock and planted it with cane in September last year. He said that by May, it was so heavy it had lodged, or lain down.
“I am expecting to cut between 2000 and 2500 tonnes from the 40 acres ( 16.8ha),” he said.
“I’m always open to new ideas and was interested in what Rod was doing.
“He has been working on this with other growers in more northerly areas for many years. It comes down to your soil being productive. As far as I’m concerned, he has come up with something that makes sense.”
Mr Karger said every farmer he had worked with and who had applied his technique was now cutting heavier cane and was Yellow Canopy Syndrome free.
Mr Gangemi said he was using less fertiliser and had much healthier soils.
“Because the soil is so healthy the rain water goes straight down into it. It is not running over the top and taking fertiliser with it. I haven’t had any run off so that means nothing is going out to the Reef,” he said.
Mr Karger said cane in nonproductive soils containing high levels of aluminium and manganese were more likely to suffer from Yellow Canopy Syndrome.
He said when cell growth was inhibited in the roots and the plant became stressed, it was more likely to develop Yellow Canopy Syndrome.