Soil amendment trial underway in Burdekin, Queensland

| Posted May 12,2023

Australia’s agricultural soils are often plagued with multiple physical and chemical constraints that hinder crop root growth and access to water. By reducing these constraints, roots can more easily penetrate the soil and access the essential resources they need to grow.

A Soil CRC field trial is underway in the lower Burdekin area near Townsville in Queensland to analyse the long-term effects of eight unique amendments on sugarcane root depth, water use, and productivity. The trial is being managed by Burdekin Productivity Services who are a participant in the Soil CRC.

Burdekin Productivity Services’ Rob Milla is excited to be involved with this cutting-edge trial and is pleased to see a focus on sugarcane. “Soil constraints are a common problem across the sugarcane industry, so it’s great to be able to test novel ways of treating soils in our region,” Mr Milla said. 

“The cooperating grower is also very interested in the trial and results. He and his two sons were incredibly helpful in assisting with calibrating and applying the amendments, so interaction and assistance from them is greatly appreciated.

“Their site presents several soil constraints including compacted and structureless subsoil that is sodic and magnesic, making it an ideal candidate for treatment. To assess the extent of these constraints, soil pits were dug prior to establishment, revealing waterlogged soils from approximately 20cm down.”

Electromagnetic soil mapping (EM38 survey) was used to select an area of the site with the least variation. The old cane crop was then ploughed out and the block levelled before baseline soil samples were collected.

After careful soil preparation, the eight amendments were applied to the subsoil across 32 distinct plots. New cane was planted in March this year and has since grown to knee-height, appearing lush and healthy.

Mr Milla noted the trial will continue for four growing seasons to assess the long-term effects of the amendments on crop water use efficiency and yield. So stay tuned!

The Burdekin site is part of a multi-state, field-based project which is employing recent advances in soil improvement techniques to address multiple soil constraints.

Led by Dr. Ehsan Tavakkoli of the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the ‘Integrated Solutions for Accessing Soil Moisture‘ project is advancing our understanding of the intricate interactions between soil improvement techniques and plant water use in various soil types and farming systems.

Through rigorous research and innovative approaches, we are working to unlock the full potential of our agricultural lands and enhance crop productivity in sustainable and impactful ways.

Read more about this project