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Case Study: Runoff monitoring on sugar cane farms

Supplier: Campbell Scientific Australia By: Tracy Russell
11 October, 2011

In December 2009, the Herbert Demonstration farm site was established in the Trebonne area on Orazio and Anthony Marino’s farm.

The project is supported by DEEDI, Terrain NRM, BSES and JCU staff.

Herbert Demonstration Farm Project

Project Location

Trebonne - Ingham (S18.62843 E146.06468)

System Purpose

To monitor surface water runoff from 2 different cane farming systems. The focus being herbicides and nutrients.

Data Logger

Originally, the project used a Campbell CR200; however, additional project funds have allowed an up-grade to a Campbell CR800.

Sensors and Peripherals

  • SSteel pressure transducer: Campbell CS450-2-L10m x 2
  • ISCO 3700 portable samplers x 2
  • Calibrated 9” Parshall Flumes x 2
  • Telemetry
  • Solar panel
  • Box trailer

What parameters are being measured?

  • Rainfall
  • Depth -> Flow -> Discharge
  • Analyte concentration

Communications and Networking

Data is being retrieved via a Modmax modem and relayed using a NextG data connection.

In December 2009, the Herbert Demonstration farm site was established in the Trebonne area on Orazio and Anthony Marino’s farm.  The project is supported by DEEDI, Terrain NRM, BSES and JCU staff.  Combining environmental sustainability and profitable farming as the key drivers, this is a collaborative effort between growers, government, research and industry bodies and is part of the Queensland and Australian Government’s Reef Plan to improve water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. There are Demonstration farm sites also located in the Burdekin and Tully areas.

The Herbert Demonstration farm site has been divided into 2 sections- one section planted on a 1.6m conventional farming system and one section planted on a 1.83m controlled traffic mound planted farming system. To date there has been 6 additional cultivations in the conventional farming system block compared to the controlled traffic mound planted block, which has attributed to a higher cost of establishment in the conventional block.  All nutrient applications to date have been identical and are based on the BSES 6 Easy Steps guidelines and in accordance with government regulations.

In the fallow period a legume was grown on both blocks, the legume mulched. The controlled traffic mound planted block was zonal tilled and the conventional block was conventionally and prepared. It is important to understand the fate of legume nitrogen under different farming practices; consequently the movement of nitrogen in the soil profile from the legume crop is being investigated for both treatments over a 12 month period.

The block has been soil mapped using electro-magnetic soils mapping equipment and ground truthed. This equipment identified 5 distinctive soil types within the block and found areas of sodic soil not previously known. Within the 5 soil types, soil sampling to depths of 1m have occurred. It was found that 2 of the 5 soil types had low levels of phosphorus (P) present; below the government guidelines for P application. To date no P applications have occurred within the block because a routine soil test taken across the block indicated that no P fertiliser applications were required.

Water sampling for nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides have occurred on the site since September, 2010. Water runoff from a number of rows in each treatment are diverted through a calibrated flume: as highlighted in the photo opposite.  Sensors and monitoring equipment collect a water sample automatically every time a certain volume of runoff passes from the field and through the flume. The collected water samples are then sent to labs at James Cook University and Brisbane for analysis.

The cost effectiveness of the various "new" farming system practices will be assessed on the controlled traffic mound planted block and compared to the conventional block. Adopting a new farming system can bring significant capital expense. Through rigours monitoring, the Herbert demonstration farm project will assist industry gain a better understanding of the environmental, economic and social benefits of implementing new farming practices. 

The site will be continued to be monitored over the next 2 years. Trial results will be made available to industry as they become available.

For more information please contact Mark Whitten, DEEDI Project Officer.