CSIRO app helps sugarcane farmers manage fertiliser

Friday, 17 January, 2020

CSIRO app helps sugarcane farmers manage fertiliser

An app developed by CSIRO will help sugarcane farmers in Far North Queensland manage fertiliser use and reduce nitrogen runoff to the Great Barrier Reef. The free app — named 1622WQ — shows the concentration of nitrogen in local waterways in real time, allowing farmers to determine whether fertiliser has run off from their farm.

The app will give sugarcane growers easy access to water quality information, allowing them to relate their management practices to water quality in local waterways, for example immediately after rainfall.

When rain washes nitrogen fertiliser into waterways, farmers lose out economically and the health of Great Barrier Reef ecosystems is placed under threat.

CSIRO agricultural scientist and 1622WQ project leader Dr Peter Thorburn said the new app was co-designed with farmers to meet their needs.

“Sugarcane growers told us they wanted quick and easy access to water quality information, so they could find out what’s going on with their crops and make better decisions,” Dr Thorburn said.

“Although an app can appear simple, the smarts behind it are anything but. The chain of information between the water quality sensors in local waterways and what you see on your phone is complex and requires substantial innovation along the way.”

The app shows data on nitrate concentrations from high-frequency automatic sensors deployed in selected coastal catchments, using CSIRO’s data analytics and deep learning. Rainfall is shown so that farmers can see how the weather is affecting local water quality.

Stephen Calcagno — a sugarcane grower and Cairns region chairman of peak body CANEGROWERS — has started using the app.

“This will be a great tool for farmers to see the impact of their farm management and help them improve their practices and the environment,” Calcagno said.

“I look forward to seeing what happens over the coming wet season.”

CSIRO Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley said the app brought together decades of agricultural expertise and close industry relationships with advanced digital technologies.

“We’ve paired our deep domain expertise in agriculture with digital technology to provide a solution for farmers who want to remain efficient and competitive while also reducing their impact on the environment,” Dr Foley said.

“Solving complex challenges like protecting the Great Barrier Reef require[s] deep innovation, but it’s also important that the end result is a simple and intuitive product like this app, that farmers can seamlessly integrate into their business.”

Based on artificial intelligence, new ways to predict water quality days or weeks ahead are currently in the pipeline. CSIRO is developing a suite of 1622 apps — incorporating other aspects that are important to sugarcane growers, including fine-tuning which parts of a crop might need more or less fertiliser and comparing different fertiliser application rates on crop performance and environmental impact before planting.

“Sugarcane is the first farming system we’ve looked at, but we could deploy it in any area where real-time water quality data could help inform agricultural practices,” Dr Thorburn said.

Growers and the public can use the app by visiting 1622.farm.

Image courtesy of CSIRO.

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