Past Innovation Creates Sustainable Future for Babinda Canegrower
Raymond Vicarioli was only young when he and his parents first purchased a sugarcane farm in 1976 at the base of Mt Bartle Frere. Fast-forward to 2018 and Ray still wakes up to a view of lush cane fields, Broken Nose Lookout and Josephine Falls on Queensland’s highest mountain.
In the 42 years that have passed Ray has taken over his father’s farm and raised his two children on the property with his wife Rosemary. In that time, he has seen the sugarcane industry embrace widespread change.
The industry is constantly evolving Ray says, as growers continually adopt new practices and trial new technologies to improve productivity and protect the environment.
“In the early years farmers had horses pulling planters”, he said, “now everything is automated and there are tractors that can practically drive themselves.”
“The biggest change I’ve noticed across the industry is the adoption of green cane harvesting and trash blanketing which helps to retain soil moisture, nutrients, and topsoil, and means you don’t have to use as many chemicals to control the weeds.”
Spend any time with Ray and you quickly come to realise the passion and dedication he has for cane farming. Ray is involved in many aspects of the industry and is often the first to get involved in new initiatives and trials around the district.
Through Landcare initiatives, Ray and his family rebuilt the banks of the Russell River bordering their farm. “We planted more than 1,000 trees along the bank to help reduce topsoil runoff, catch sediment and slow the speed of the river when it floods,” he said. “The cane can handle the water for a few days but it’s the current that can do the most damage.”
“If there is one thing we are not in short supply of, it is water,” he said. “Parts of the farm were completely flat and used to be a floodplain when it rained.”
Over the years Ray has re-directed runoff on his 300-acre farm and created a drainage channel complete with seepage pipes. He also built a silt trap to retain sediment and nutrients that would otherwise flow into the waterways.
“We had to rehabilitate and re-direct a badly eroded waterway, so the drainage systems would work,” he said. “It took my wife and I the better part of two months to complete but it was worth it to ensure the nutrients and topsoil stay where they belong.”
It was this dedication and hard work that saw Ray recognised as the CANEGROWERS Sugarcane Grower of the Year in 2011.
He was also one of the first growers in the region to become accredited in Smartcane BMP, the industry’s tailor-made best practice farming system for sugarcane growing in Australia. The program aims to increase the uptake of sustainable practices while improving productivity.
Ray says he was pleasantly surprised at how little he had to modify during the accreditation process. “I found the majority of my farming practices were already in line with Smartcane BMP and I was able to get a lot of credit for the work I had previously done,” he said.
Looking to the future Ray has no plans to slow down anytime soon. “There is always something you can be doing around the farm to improve things,” he said. “I’ve learned that the more you can do for yourself, the better off you will be.”