The sugarcane improved practices guides provide information to help sugarcane growers in reef catchments identify and adopt improved land management practices.

The aim is to support agricultural profitability and productivity, while improving the quality of water in the Great Barrier Reef, as part of the Reef Plan initiative.

The guides contain technical information about how to implement the improved practices, and results from trials and case studies where the practices have been employed. The guides represent the best available information at the time and will be continually updated as new research and results become available.

Information from case studies and trials of improved practices can be accessed in the Sugarcane Improved Practices publication set. The case studies are developed by agricultural economists, Natural Resource Management (NRM) groups, industry groups and extension officers, working with sugarcane growers. The guides also include links to other data sources.

Further information relevant to your region can be obtained by contacting NRM groups.


The following guide is currently available for sugarcane:

Guides for other regions will be available in the near future. Please refer to the practice factsheets below for information about the practices and trials in other regions.

For local expertise and advice about implementing the practices on your farm, contact an extension officer in your region by calling our Customer Service Centre on 13 25 23.

Practice factsheets

Optimise nutrient rate and application as part of a nutrient management plan

Crop nutrient application rates

This guide provides information on how to match nutrient rate to crop needs by varying application rates and timing between blocks, guided by soil tests, crop class, cane variety, soil type, block history, soil conditioners and yield expectations.

Information fact sheet: Crop nutrient application rates

Apply granular and liquid fertiliser subsurface

This guide provides key findings such as:

  • The most effective placement of fertiliser is close to the roots of the plant. Proven application techniques include subsurface banding of fertiliser at planting and stool-splitting in the ratoon crop. Loss pathways are also minimised (leaching, volatilisation, denitrification and runoff).
  • Nitrogen uptake by the crop is more efficient in fertigation systems as they deliver nutrients closer to the crop root zone. However, fertigation only benefits water quality if it occurs as part of an integrated nutrient management plan.

Information fact sheet: Apply granular and liquid fertiliser subsurface

Spray out or slash legume crop

This guide provides information about how to spray out or slash fallow legume crop and leave residue on the surface until planting the next crop.

  • Key findings include: Incorporating a fallow legume can improve farm profitability through improvements in cane yield and/or the sale of the legume crop. The improved sugarcane yield can be attributed to improved soil health, water infiltration as well as improved weed and disease control.
  • Profitability can be improved through a reduction of input costs such as nitrogenous fertiliser. Legumes also provide diversification to farm revenue if a legume crop is able to be sold. The additional costs of fallow legume cropping are generally outweighed by enhanced economic benefits.

Information fact sheet: Spray out or slash legume crop

Optimise pesticide use as part of an integrated pest management plan

This guide provides information about using flexible management strategies based on block monitoring and taking into account:

  • pest threshold numbers, populations of beneficial species and levels of crop damage
  • block history, prevailing environmental conditions, chemical options, rate and timing of applications, and selection of equipment
  • Efficient use of residual and knockdown chemicals (e.g. regular calibration of equipment, nozzle selection, band application, product label recommendations).

Information fact sheet: Pesticide use as part of an integrated pest management plan

Optimise soil retention and water infiltration

Minimal tillage

This guide provides practices including: Minimising tillage using controlled traffic (at ≥1.8m) giving uncompacted permanent beds. Best used with GPS technology, and /or full crop cycle green cane trash blanket (trash retention is not common in furrow irrigated areas in the Burdekin region).

A number of studies in sugarcane have shown that controlled traffic farming systems including trash retention reduce the levels of sediment, pesticides and nutrient in runoff.

Information fact sheet: Minimal tillage

Manage headlands, vegetation buffers, drains and sediment traps to capture and or filter runoff from crop production areas

This guide includes best practice key findings such as:

  • Vegetated filter strips and grass buffers have proved effective in the management and trapping of sediment and attached nutrients leaving paddocks.
  • Riparian buffer strips can also help to reduce stream bank erosion, provide wildlife habitat and landscape connectivity.

Information fact sheet: Managing headlands, vegetation buffers, drains and sediment traps

Schedule irrigation based on soil properties, crop growth requirements, and monitoring of soil moisture and weather forecasts

This guide includes best practice key findings such as:

  • In all irrigation systems the frequency and amount of water applied should be matched to plant requirements
  • Soil moisture monitoring equipment, including tensiometers can be used to inform decisions about how often to irrigate and how much water to apply. This minimises water logging and the amount of water lost through runoff and or deep drainage.

Information fact sheet: Schedule irrigation

Further Information

Contact our Customer Service Centre.