Thursday 18th Aug, 2022

New app helps sugarcane farmers reduce Great Barrier Reef pollution

CSIRO has launched a new app to help sugarcane farmers in far north Queensland manage fertiliser use to reduce runoff onto the Great Barrier Reef.
CSIRO intern Rob Lucas uses a drone to monitor conditions on a cane farm

CSIRO has launched a new app to help sugarcane farmers in far north Queensland manage fertiliser use to reduce runoff onto the Great Barrier Reef.

Previously, there was no way sugarcane farmers could tell whether fertiliser has runoff from their farm but the new app, named 1622WQ, can show the concentration of nitrogen in local waterways in real time.

This means farmers have easy access to local water quality information and can relate management practices for water quality in local waterways.

It can become especially helpful after rainfall, as this causes nitrogen fertiliser to wash away, wasting both the farmer’s money and poses a threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

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

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“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,” 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 select coastal catchments. It can then use CSIRO’s data analytics and deep learning that are not currently available in other apps.

Stephen Calcagno is a sugarcane grower and Chairman in the Cairns Region of the peak body, Canegrowers.

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

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

CSIRO Chief Scientist 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,” Foley said.

“Solving complex challenges like protecting the Great Barrier Reef require 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.”

CSIRO is continuing to develop the app and hopes to introduce other features to help sugarcane farmers, such as 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 they even plant.