Monday, August 27, 2007

Agriculture and Environment Can Work Together to Benefit Both

International award for CSIRO sugar breakthrough
Australia Friday, 24 August 2007

Agriculture has often been seen as the enemy of the environment. Recent work in sugar cane shows that yields can be maintained while improving environment outcomes. It has been recognised that run off from predominantly sugarcane land has contributed to nutrient loads in the offshore areas, including the Barrier Reef. Work has been underway to addess this problem and CSIRO's new approach to reducing fertiliser run-off into the Great Barrier Reef has won best agriculture paper at an international conference on sugarcane.

The team of researchers, led by Dr Peter Thorburn, has developed the 'N Replacement' approach to nitrogen fertiliser management, which could have major environmental and economic benefits for sugarcane-growing regions.
"Our initial trials indicate that this approach may enable farmers to cut their nitrogen fertiliser use by an average of 30pc with very little affect on sugar yields," Dr Thorburn said. "That could translate to an estimated 80pc reduction in the amount of nitrogen that leaches out into waterways from sugarcane paddocks, which would be very good news for the Great Barrier Reef."

The International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists, representing scientists from 23 countries, presented Dr Thorburn and his co-authors with the award for best agricultural research paper at its triennial congress in Durban, South Africa earlier this month.

The winning study was titled 'Systems to Balance Production and Environmental Goals of Nitrogen Fertiliser Management' and sums up the results of three years of field trials in Queensland and NSW.

"It's a great honour to receive this award from our colleagues around the world," Dr Thorburn said. "The cooperation and advice we've received from local grower groups in northern NSW, Maryborough, Innisfail, Mulgrave, Mossman, and the Burdekin has been invaluable in shaping our ideas."

The paper also incorporates work done in cooperation with BSES Ltd on monitoring nitrogen levels in harvested cane using near infrared spectroscopy instruments (NIR) at the sugar mill to provide important information to help farmers to better manage fertiliser use in their crop.

Dr Thorburn says the N Replacement approach and NIR system are now at the 'proof of concept' stage, and more work is required before it can be rolled out across the industry.

"The Six-Easy Steps program developed by BSES Limited for soil-specific nutrient management practices in sugarcane production is currently the best technique widely available to growers, but we hope in a few years N Replacement will provide a new option for growers wanting to further reduce their nitrogen use and their environmental impact," he said.

The prize-winning research was funded by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation in partnership with CSIRO.

partially sourced: CSIRO

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