Home' Grower : February 2013 Contents The South Australian Grower -- February 2013
THE benefits of trash blanketing are well
known. Protection from soil erosion, weed
control, and improved soil health are some
of the reasons that har vesting green cane has
increased from a virtually non-existent practice
to one where some regions har vest more than
75 per cent in under 30 years.
In green cane har vesting, leaves and tops of
the cane are left on the ground as a 'trash blan-
Not everyone has been able to reap the
rewards of this practice. Many growers who rely
on flood irrigation on low-graded blocks have
not been able to easily change from cane burn-
ing to green har vesting.
Flood irrigation presents a few challenges
when it comes to trash blanketing. The most
apparent is that when cane furrows are filled
with residual cane leaves and tops, it makes it
very difficult for water to run through the fur-
row. The solution is either higher inflow rates
or deeper flow depths.
But a University of Southern Queensland
study from 2002 found that these solutions
were not without challenges. Losses to deep
drainage increase, with the maximum loss
expected in low-infiltration soils at moderate
When green har vesting practices were adopt-
ed, the maximum furrow length that could be
achieved with less that 15 per cent deep
drainage percolation was reduced by 50 metres
to 175m, depending on the soil type.
Growers faced with either increasing pumping
capacity or reconfiguring their farm blocks have
to then evaluate the impact of this extra water
requirement on their crop.
One of the major benefits of trash blanketing
is increased soil moisture retention. But when
this increased volume of water is applied, trash
blanketing can work against the ratoon crop,
causing water logging and damage by fertiliser
loss due to de-nitrification and leaching.
Faced with these challenges, a number of
growers are upgrading their irrigation practices
from furrow to subsurface drip irrigation.
Generally buried 30 centimetres below the
surface and used for up to 20 years, drip irriga-
tion delivers water and fertiliser direct to the
active root zone of the sugar cane.
Irrigation is applied frequently, often daily in
small amounts. This not only reduces the
potential for water logging but also increases
irrigation and fertiliser control to maintain or
maximise yield and CCS potential.
John Deere Water product marketing manag-
er Matt Clift says many growers are adopting
"Since the first subsurface drip irrigation sys-
tem was installed in Australian cane crops over
20 years ago, growers and industry have refined
the technology to provide an irrigation solution
that is not limited to odd-shaped blocks or
unique applications, but has proved itself as an
economically viable irrigation solution for
large-scale sugar cane farms," he said.
"Beyond water conser vation and efficiency,
we are seeing many cane growers adopt drip
irrigation to meet the growing pressures of
labour constraints, environmental challenges,
and the need to increase crop optimisation".
The benefits of drip irrigation are obvious -
less water use, more effective irrigation control,
and a reduction of labour requirement. But
there are significant capital costs involved with
installation and these benefits have not always
been enough incentive for growers to change
their farming practices up until now.
As fertiliser costs increase and growers seek to
reap additional benefits such as the ability to
trash blanket, a tipping point is emerging that
is causing many cane growers to adopt drip irri-
Trash-blankets improve soils, save water
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