Mackay sugarcane leaders share innovations in Cairns
A group of 28 innovative Mackay sugarcane farmers travelled to Cairns for the fourth Project Catalyst Grower Forum. The Grower Forum brought together almost 150 Project Catalyst sugarcane growers, industry experts, sustainable agriculture leaders and government representatives to discuss innovation within the sugarcane industry. The event provided Project Catalyst growers the opportunity to share their experiences of innovation around sugarcane production with other Project Catalyst growers, agribusinesses, NRM bodies and the sugarcane supply chain. It was a celebration of the groups’ dedication to farmer led research to find economically viable ways of growing cane in a more sustainable and efficient way. Special guests at the 2013 Forum included the 2012 Australian Farmer of the Year and Grain Grower of the Year, Peter Kuhlmann and Jennie Gilbert from the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
The Project Catalyst Grower Forum is an important event for sharing knowledge that can be used by the broader sugar growing industry to help all growers become more efficient and improve their environmental and economic sustainability. Growers attending the Forum are part of the Project Catalyst program, which brings together growers from the Burdekin, the Wet Tropics and the Mackay Whitsunday regions. Phil Deguara, a local Mackay Project Catalyst grower who attended the forum said, “Project Catalyst gives us the opportunity to network with like minded growers from different regions, which is great. It also brings us together with key people from the sugarcane supply chain and sustainability organisations who are all working for the same outcomes.” All Project Catalyst growers conduct their own on-farm trials, supported by a precision agriculture expert and economic analysis. They have all made significant investments in time, money and often take risks trialing new practices, technologies and machinery as part of Project Catalyst.
This year the Forum included workshops with project leaders and researchers from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), QLD Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF QLD) and independent agronomy organisation, Farmacist. Projects were showcased at the forum in presentations focusing on efficiency in irrigation, improved nutrient, soil and herbicide management. A special workshop was also held to recognise the role of women in agriculture and innovation run by Fiona George of Broken Nose Vanilla. Presentations from Mackay growers included Phil Deguara talking about his checkerboard application of cane grub pesticide trial, which looks at finding ways to reduce the amount applied while maintaining good control and, he also discussed soil moisture probes which help him to accurately schedule irrigation. John Pastega spoke about his shear sprayer and centre pivot improvements and Tony Bugeja and Rob Sluggett presented on variable rate fertilizer trials being run on Tony’s farm.
During the Forum Field Trip participants learnt about innovation in a variety of agricultural enterprises in the Cairns and Atherton Tableland areas during a field trip taking in cane, multi-cropping, grazing, legumes, oil and meal production with the grazing enterprise diversifying into farm stays.
This year the Project Catalyst Grower Forum attracted valuable sponsorship from ongoing partners including The Coca-Cola Foundation, Bayer, Rabobank, Syngenta, Sucrogen, WWF, SRDC, Farmacist, Ergon Energy and Netafim. Project Catalyst is a not-for-profit venture and it is sponsorship from these organisations that makes events, such as the Project Catalyst Grower Forum a success.