Leaders in sugar innovation recognised

Annette and Dennis Werner and their son John are third and fourth generation farmers growing sugarcane west of Mackay. Their 330ha property is also home to breeding cattle and a small herd of 12 camels that assist in weed control.

The family has long led the way in new and sustainable practice change in sugarcane farming. In 1988 they were among the earliest to adopt of green cane harvesting in the region, moving from a burnt cane harvest to 100 percent green cane harvest.

And in 2013, in an industry where yield decline is a hot topic, the family has lifted their sugarcane productivity from 75 – 80 tonne per hectare to 85 – 90 tonne per hectare in just five years.

This year they have also been named as finalists in the Queensland Landcare Awards for innovation in sustainable farm practices.

Reef Catchments Water Officer Belinda Billing said she nominated the Werners for their focus on sustainable and innovation, as well as the leadership they provide for the community and in local research initiatives.

The Werners believe their increase in yield relates to whole system improvements, including their work with mill mud, subsurface application of fertilisers, improved herbicide and irrigation management and wider rows with controlled traffic. These farm improvements have water quality and productivity benefits and many have been co-funded through the Reef Rescue program.

The Werners’ methods frequently result in a higher number of ratoons (new shoots) than most growers. This has multiple benefits, as planting is the most expensive and intensive component of the farming cycle. For this reason the Werner farming method is part of a study into soil carbon storage funded through the Australian Government’s Action on the Ground Carbon Farming Futures Program. Researchers were interested in a block of cane they had rattooned 12 years running.

Through Annette’s involvement with the Pioneer Catchment and Landcare Group the family worked with a small group to research industrial scale composting – they worked to create the perfect compost and compost applicator and won a prize for the best compost in Queensland.

The Werners also received funds through Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants to build a mill mud applicator and have worked with Mackay Fibre Producers to grow kenaf and produce one of the world’s biggest hemp crops.

Landcare Award winners will be announced at the 2013 Queensland Landcare Conference being held in Warwick from 27 – 29 September. More information is available here.

Cane at the Werners' property.

Cane at the Werners’ property.