Innovations stopping run-off

This article was originally published in the Innisfail Advocate on 16 June 2018.

The region's sugarcane farmers are finding innovative ways to reduce water run-off from their farms in an effort to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Raymond and Rosemary Vicarioli's picturesque Babinda cane farm backs onto Queensland's tallest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere.

Cane farming has been in Raymond's family for three generations and they have always bee adopters of new practices and technologies.

"We adopted green cane trash blanketing and harvesting in the early 1980s and over the years have continued to trial new practices and technologies," Raymond said. "We always try to keep an eye out for what's new as do most growers I know."

He said one of his main priorities was to reduce the amount of chemical and silt runoff from his farm into the rivers and he has a number of creative innovations to help him do so.

“I have engineered my cane plots so that each one takes and distributes its own water to stop run off from one block to another,” he said, “there was a little effort to do so at the start, but when you weigh up the fact that it keeps the soil where it belongs, it was all worth it.”

Raymond and his wife Rosemary spent the better part of two months building a network of sub-surface seepage pipes to remove runoff

Raymond and his wife Rosemary spent the better part of two months building a network of sub-surface seepage pipes to remove runoff

Excess water from heavy rainfall is rapidly drained through a network of sub-surface seepage pipes Raymond and Rosemary spent two months building. This system avoids disruption of top soil and dilution of fertilisers preventing chemicals from entering the river system and eliminating the need to over fertilise. A cleverly designed silt trap positioned at the end of his paddocks reduces sediment runoff.

Using nature to their advantage, Raymond and Rosemary have planted a thick wall of bamboo along the Russel River bordering their farm to catch debris from the river after excess rainfall and mitigate flood damage.

“Though Landcare initiatives we were able to rebuild the riverbanks and plant over 1,000 trees along the river reducing topsoil runoff and catch sediment” he said.

A boiler-maker by trade Raymond builds and modifies much of the machinery on his farm, customising them to suit specific purposes. He built a direct drill legume planter to assist with minimal cultivation planting - a practice designed to disturb the soil as little as possible when fallowing the paddocks.

Like many growers in the district their business is accredited in the Smartcane BMP program.

“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 already done,” he said.

Raymond believes it is important that the sugarcane industry share their stories of positive change and environmental stewardship.

“The sugarcane industry is constantly evolving,” he said, “farmers are continually trailing new practices and searching out the latest innovations.”

It was for this reason that Raymond saw value in the Cane Changer project, a CANEGROWERS initiative that seeks to highlight the ongoing positive change and evolution of the industry.

“It is important to recognise and celebrate what the sugarcane industry has achieved” he said, “we have a great story to share.”