Mackay growers show BMP fits all farms

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Two recently accredited Mackay growers have shown that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in the sugarcane industry’s best management practice program, Smartcane BMP.

Local facilitator John Turner guided Tony Bartolo and Wayne Peach through their registration, self-assessment and evidence gathering activities and says the exercise proved that best practice is different on different farms.

“Both of these growers are farming under very different circumstances,” he said. “Tony is on irrigated flat straight drills and Wayne has hilly, contoured dryland country but both had a desire to check their farming practices against Smartcane BMP.

“It was a pleasure to work with two growers who had an understanding of environmental issues while striving to reduce their impact off farm.”

Tony Bartolo farms 120 hectares at Rosella, just south of Mackay.
“As an industry we need to advocate our sustainable management of the natural resources in our control and which we use to produce a product that is exported worldwide,” he said. Tony believes improving the quality of water leaving farms is paramount to the protection of oceans for future generations.

“Living in Mackay means we spend a lot of time on the water and reef fishing is my favourite pastime.” A tail water sediment trap that catches a large portion of the farm’s runoff and Tony has worked hard to fine tune farm inputs – to reduce environmental impact while maintaining or boosting production. “Granular products are applied sub-surface using side dress coulters on the ratoons and the plant cane dresser is a reversed trash incorporator which applies fertiliser and hills up in one pass.”

Tony has been converting his farm to GPS controlled traffic on 1.8m rows and most of the farm has been laser levelled. Having limited access to groundwater which, because of his proximity to the coast, can at times be quite salty has influenced a move to low pressure overhead irrigation. Tony currently has two booms and when BioDunder is applied, it is gently watered into the soil within four days of application. “This should return a good result on the current crop which is averaging about 100 tonnes per hectare against the Mackay average of about 70 tonnes,” Tony estimates.

Wayne Peach and his wife Sharon bought their 92 hectare farm from his parents in 1990 and 60 hectares is planted to cane. Wayne admits to being surprised at being one of the first two growers in the Mackay area to be accredited.

“I had to do a few things to get through but I knew I had to do them anyway,” he says of getting his dryland farm through the Smartcane BMP process.“I guess it inspired me to get my act together and our facilitator John Turner made it all fairly painless.”

The farm has undulating blocks and light soils. It’s a combination that makes it prone to erosion, a factor that prompted Wayne to move to zonal tillage on 1.83m centres.

“This is only my second year but the bit of rain we did have had didn’t produce the erosion that I would normally have seen,” he said.

Wayne is seeing time and fuel saving now that his tractors have now all had their wheel spacings converted - one of the tasks he needed to complete to meet the Smartcane BMP requirements. Putting in a chemical shed was another thing on his list.

And while he’d been keeping paper records, Wayne has recently upgraded his computer skills and started using the AgDat program to record his chemical usage.

“The next thing will be to move to using a mobile phone in the paddock and uploading the information because even though I don’t have GPS in my tractors it will use the GPS in my phone," he said.

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