Marcus: Dom, we're here today to talk about the need for sugarcane producers to create a nitrogen and phosphorus budget for the new Reef protection regulations. Could you tell me some more about these please?
Dom: Yeah sure, Marcus. Basically, what's happened in December 2019, the Reef regulations for cane farming changed. A centrepiece of that package was a thing we call the N&P budget. Now that's for working out your nitrogen and phosphorus rates on the farm. The N&P budget is still based on the Six Easy Steps process. So, you still work out the rates per block as you would normally do. But the change now is you have a whole of farm amount. And what that does is that gives the growers some flexibility in where they place their fertiliser. The way that works is you add up all the nitrogen recommendations for all your blocks and you must not exceed that amount. What you can do though, is you if you want to trial something or if you've got a situation where you've got some irrigation on part of your farm, what you could do is you could add on a higher rate than the recommended rate in that area but that would have to be offset somewhere else on the farm, with a lower rate, ergo that the whole of farm amount is not breached.
Marcus: So, has the method for calculating nitrogen rates changed?
Dom: No, we still base it on the Six Easy Steps, as I said. And there's a regulated method which you use to base your application rates on in conjunction with soil tests that's available on our website.
Marcus: Who needs to develop the budget?
Dom: Well, the budget, really, should be put together by a suitably qualified person. By that, I mean, someone like an agronomist, someone who understands the principles and the science behind soil science, and they are able to give you the appropriate recommendation based on what the crop needs and the status of the soil in order for you to grow the best crop you can.
Marcus: How is this budget developed?
Dom: Well, you've got to start off with a farm map and a soils map. You've got to identify the constraints on the farm. These might be soil constraints. You've got to have the soil sampling results available, for your ratoons and your plant cane. And from that you use the prescribed methodology to work out the rates. And then if you want to, you can vary the rates across the farm as long as you don't exceed the whole of farm amount.
Marcus: When can growers vary their rates?
Dom: Well growers can vary their rates in conjunction with the agronomist or the suitably qualified person I mentioned before. So, the idea is, is we want to build in a bit of flexibility for the growers to be able to make decisions with regards to their cane that will improve their profitability and productivity.
Marcus: So, growers could put an extra 10 kilograms of nitrogen on one of their farms, if they and their agronomist thought that yield potential would be higher on that block?
Dom: That's fine. But what you have to do then is look for parts of the farm, where you can drop the rate. So that might be something like a bean crop. You've plant cane, with some beans on it, and you're just going to take off, a reasonably small amount from that and give it to the other area of the farm. That might not be enough, so you might look for other places where you can look for savings of nitrogen, and that could include the last ratoon that you've got going. The other thing is, is this can change at any time.
Marcus: How often do growers need to take soil samples?
Dom: Well, soil samples need to be taken prior to plant cane being established. So, it's basically what we would consider a crop cycle. That's once every five years on any particular part of the country. But if you're ratooning out further than that, that's fine. That soil sample can still be used for those older ratoons. If you need more information on soil sampling as I said before, the prescribed method for sugarcane also includes a method for soil sampling and the appropriate tests that need to be conducted and the people, the labs that you should be taking them to.
Marcus: How do growers manage their phosphorus?
Dom: There's a 10-kilo phosphorus allowance at plant. And that continues. The only thing is, is if you choose to use that allowance it can't form a part of your budget. And the other difference with phosphorus is some people apply multiple years’ worth of phosphorus to cover multiple years. Now that's fine. That can still continue, but if you choose to do that you must still make a record of those phosphorus applications but they do not form a part of the budget. If you're applying phosphorus yearly and you're doing that ala the Six Easy Steps, then you can use that in your phosphorus budget and treat it the same as nitrogen.
Marcus: What about growing another crop in rotation with cane? Do growers need to account for a legume crop in the budget?
Dom: No, they don't. They don't have to account for the nitrogen applications for any other crops whether they're legumes or corn, within the budget. The budget only applies to sugarcane because that's the science that we have available that we're able to make recommendations based on the Six Easy Steps.
Marcus: How does the nitrogen and phosphorus budget work across several farms with different ID numbers?
Dom: That's fine. So, it's just a practical rule that, just because the blocks aren't all joined together on a continuous farm, that doesn't mean it's not a farm. So that can be treated as one farm or if the grower would prefer they can treat them as separate farms.
Marcus: How long does the budget last?
Dom: So, the budget has to be updated every year. But it has to be reviewed every five years with a suitably qualified person.
Marcus: What records do growers need to keep?
Dom: So, they need to keep the records of their recommendations per block. They need to keep a record of the applications of N&P that they've made, and they need to keep a copy of their N&P budget, which can be in whatever format works for the grower and their agronomist.
Marcus: Is there a template or an example budget that growers can use?
Dom: No, we don't have a template, but what we do have is a guide that's also available on our website and that tries to run through one particular approach to keeping these records and formatting the budget because obviously you need a farm map. You'll need to distinguish the zones where you may want to change rates. But the other thing to remember, you may not want to change rates. You may want to just stick with the way you're doing it but you will still need the N&P budget completed.
Marcus: What is the verification process? And is there a form that the advisor needs to complete?
Dom: No, there's no form the advisor needs to complete but the advisor will have to sign and put their details onto the N&P budget.
Marcus: Does every farm need to complete a nitrogen and phosphorus budget? And when do growers need to do this?
Dom: Yes, they do, Marcus. Every farm will need to do one. The date at which it's enacted is the 1st of December 2021. So that would mean that the farm budget would have to be developed for that 2022 season.
Marcus: How can growers find out more?
Dom: Well, I mean, they could talk to their local agronomists, but we're keen to help out people who need that help. So, there's a website available and there's also a phone number and you can see that below. And we're more than happy to help people through this. If they need some assistance with working it out or who would be the appropriate people to talk to.