Seven years on and the collaboration is proving to be revolutionary
Project Catalyst programmes began in Mackay in 2008 to encourage wide spread adoption of on-farm practice change, at this years annual Catalyst forum being held in Cairns February 22-23, innovative growers and partners will celebrate their success.
Reef Catchments Manager Katrina Dent is excited to be returning to her home ground for her first forum, since joining the team in May 2015.
“I’m looking forward to seeing first-hand how these programs have advanced the sugar industry in Cairns, I’m keen to share knowledge so we can improve practice for all existing regions, with the goal of extending the program throughout grower regions in the state.”
2016 is proving to be a very exciting year with the development of new systems to be trialled in irrigation technology.
Although the technology already exists, it’s cost has prohibited many farmers adopting the radio transmitting, moisture probe monitoring control for irrigation and it hasn’t been without challenges as Anthony Curro Innovations Project Officer with NQ Dry Tropics explained.
“There have been hurdles around the software/phone app process and feedback mechanisms to overcome before we can get this into a trial on farm. The adoption of telemetry and automation generates several cost savings driven by lower electricity and labour requirements, not to forget the consolation prize of a better lifestyle with the ability to remotely monitor irrigations schedules.”
Anthony also feels the Project Catalyst trial wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Australian Government funded ‘Gamechanger Programme’ and Reef Water Quality grants through the Reef Programme.
The Automation and Telemetry team includes:
- Willy Lucas – Host Farmer
- Greg Paine – Sensor development
- Digi-bale – Wool Innovations company (helping to develop low cost telemetry systems and environmental sensors)
- Automation and Telemetry reference group: consisting of local sugarcane growers and industry staff.
- Project Partners – NQ Dry Tropics, Farmacist Burdekin and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF)
Willy Lucas is a fourth generation sugarcane farmer on 194 hectares in the Osborne area, south of the Burdekin River. The Project Catalyst host farmer (2010) is proud to be a part of the industries future, adopting many new processes and applications like GPS guidance across the farm with 1.52m row spacing in a minimum tillage system. The Lucas farm is furrow irrigated with 25 per cent of water supplied through channel and the balance from bores, recycling more than half of the runoff.
“Some other benefits are that other people around the farm have been looking on and are now wanting to get involved, now that they know it works and this creates more employment.”
Technology advancement is something Ian Davies understands the importance of in shaping farming over the last 25 years, he feels it’s a combination of many things.
“My practical understanding of Ag probably stems from me growing up on a farm (cotton) and completing my Ag Degree. My days working for QIDC (in parts of FNQ), my role as Commercial Manager (my CSR days) and now being responsible for Wilmar’s corporate farms have provided good insight into the business side of agriculture. Rounding this out is the diversity of roles I have held in the sugar industry over that time.”
An Agriculturalist, Cane Supply Manager, Commercial Manager, Business Improvement Manager and currently GM of Agriculture, Ian is well placed to share his bent for improving things.
“I have a keen interest in innovation and technology, my presentation actually reflects on this. If you go back 25 years and try and remember what we were playing with then it is difficult to imagine we could have been so primitive. I think the cost, speed and reliability of technology is probably the biggest improvement we have seen. GPS equipment, variable rate application and tractor sophistication are all things that are now well accepted. 80% of what our kids take for granted now wasn’t around when we were their age. Taking into account the rapid rate of technology improvement, it is nearly impossible to predict where and what farming might be doing. ”
When asked about the role of Project Catalyst Ian had this to say,
“Project Catalyst has been just that – a Catalyst for the standard practice of the future. Not all practices are going to be winners; however, they say that every defeat is one step closer to success – so we need to keep trying. Project Catalyst has encouraged people to “push the boundaries” and this is much needed as the industry could really do with a step change to improve our gross margin.”
This is just one innovation farmers will learn about at the annual Project Catalyst Forum in Cairns (from Feb 22 to Feb 23), hosted in 2016 by Terrain NRM. With more attention on the health of the Great Barrier Reef than ever, the forum will be significant for sugar growers nationally.
Results and findings from innovation trials under Project Catalyst will be shared with the aim of improving water quality, limiting water use and reducing agricultural runoff. To date, Project Catalyst growers in Queensland have helped improve the quality of more than 150 billion litres of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.
Project Catalyst** was established to help cane farmers develop innovative, economically viable and environmentally sustainable farming practices.
The program is a unique collaboration between cane farmers, The Coca-Cola Foundation, WWF, Bayer CropScience, NRM groups and the Australian Government. It currently involves more than 70 cane growers from the state’s major areas of sugar production – Mackay and the Whitsundays, Burdekin Dry Tropics, and the Wet Tropics.
Ms Dent said, “The good work being done under Project Catalyst is now being extended across Queensland through the Game Changer program, which is funded through the Australian Government’s Reef Program.
“Game Changer supports farmers to adopt strategies where evidence has shown they can be applied across farms with sound economic outcomes while significantly increasing the cuts to sugarcane pollutant run.”
Ms Dent said, “We want to now see this figure built on and amplified by wider uptake of practice change by our cane farmers.”