Strategies for maximising sugarcane yield with limited water in the Bundaberg district

Baillie, Craig Peter (2004) Strategies for maximising sugarcane yield with limited water in the Bundaberg district. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

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[Abstract]: Sugarcane farmers in Bundaberg have had limited access to irrigation water over the last ten years. The district has the potential of growing 3.8 million tonnes of sugarcane. However, a series of dry seasons saw this reduce to 2.1 million tonnes in 2002. Compounding the effects of both dry seasons and limited water supplies has been a 30% reduction in the sugar price over this period. The irrigation requirement of sugarcane in the Bundaberg area is 8 ML/ha. The original allocated volume for sugarcane production in this area was 4.5 ML/ha (based on 1970 production areas). However, as the area under production has increased and announced allocations in each year has reduced, this allocation is now equivalent to an application volume of about 2 ML/ha A change from the traditional practice of full irrigation is required as water supplies become depleted. As there were no clear guidelines on how growers could respond to diminishing water supplies, this research investigated opportunities to fine tune irrigation practices and the performance of irrigation systems (ie. low cost solutions) that would assist growers to maximise sugarcane yield. A grower survey was initially conducted to identify current practice and opportunities for change. Field investigations focused on the performance of water winch and furrow irrigation systems, which make up 91% of the irrigated area in the district. As most of these application systems have insufficient capacity to meet crop demands opportunities to schedule irrigations were limited to start up after rain. Improvements in irrigation system performance were found to provide the greatest potential to increase sugarcane yield under conditions of limited water. Investigations identified that irrigation performance could be significantly improved through relatively minor adjustment. Field trials found that wind speed and direction significantly influenced the performance of travelling gun irrigators. Although growers were generally aware of the effects of wind, meteorological data suggested that the opportunity to operate water winches in low wind conditions is limited. Changing to a taper nozzle under moderate to high wind conditions will reduce the effect of wind on performance. This practice was found to improve the uniformity (measured by Christiansen’s Uniformity Coefficient, CU) by 16%. The grower survey indicated that there was no preference towards the use of taper nozzles in windy conditions. Additional trial work developed a relationship between the variation in water applied to the field through non uniformity and sugarcane yield. An 8% reduction in yield was determined for a 10% reduction in CU. This indicated that changing to a taper nozzle could potentially increase sugarcane yield by 15% in high wind conditions. Other settings, which also influenced uniformity, included lane spacing and gun arc angle Simple changes to the operation of furrow irrigation systems were also found to dramatically improve irrigation performance. Field measurements in combination with simulation modelling of irrigation events using SIRMOD II identified that current irrigation performance ranged in application efficiency from 45 to 99% (mean of 79%) and a distribution uniformity from 71 to 93% (mean of 82%). Both application efficiency and distribution uniformity were increased to greater than 90% and 84% respectively, except on a cracking clay soil. Improvements in application efficiency and distribution uniformity were achieved by adjusting furrow flow rate (cup size), turning the irrigation off at the right time (ie. just as it reached the end of the field) and banking the end of the field. Growers had a good understanding of the correct cut off time and were attentive to reducing run off through either banking ends or tail water return. However, growers had a poor understanding of the significance of furrow flow rate. Other opportunities to improve irrigation performance on high infiltration soils included alternate furrow irrigation and shallow cultivation practices which maintained compaction in the interspace and reduced infiltration. Soil moisture and crop growth measurements indicated that sugarcane yield could be maximised by starting the irrigation rotation earlier after rainfall (ie. at a deficit equal to the irrigation amount). These observations were modelled using the crop simulation model APSIM sugar to assess the strategy over a longer time interval and the influence of seasonal variation. Simulation modelling showed that final sugarcane yields were not sensitive to irrigation start-up strategies. Yields for the start-up strategies modelled varied by less than 5 tc/ha. This minor difference occurred as the crop yield was driven by the total amount of water available to the plant. The limited amount of irrigation water available to the plant (2 to 3 ML/ha) had only a minor effect on the water balance and no significant change to effective rainfall between strategies. The greatest difference in yield occurred between irrigation treatments when water was left over at the end of the season (9.2 tc/ha). Starting irrigation earlier after rainfall events (on a 14 day rotation) provided the greatest opportunity to use all of the available irrigation supply. By comparison, delaying the application of the first irrigation after rainfall resulted in some of the irrigation water not being applied in 30% of years.

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Item Type: Thesis (PhD/Research)
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Master of Engineering thesis. Transferred from ADT 24/11/2006.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Engineering and Surveying - Department of Agricultural, Civil and Environmental Engineering (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Engineering and Surveying - Department of Agricultural, Civil and Environmental Engineering (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Supervisors: Raine, Steven
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007 00:41
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2020 05:27
Uncontrolled Keywords: sugarcane, yield, crop irrigation, winch and furrow irrigation
Fields of Research (2008): 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences > 0799 Other Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences > 079901 Agricultural Hydrology (Drainage, Flooding, Irrigation, Quality, etc.)
Fields of Research (2020): 30 AGRICULTURAL, VETERINARY AND FOOD SCIENCES > 3002 Agriculture, land and farm management > 300201 Agricultural hydrology

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