Reef Rescue: Improving farm efficiency

Thirty years ago, Isis cane farmer Mark Mammino’s father told him that there wasn’t much more they could be doing to improve their farming efficiency. That was before the widespread adoption of green cane harvesting. While the farming business has long enjoyed the associated benefits of trash retention, much like most of the district, these days Mark and his wife Deran continue to look for any opportunity available to improve their farming efficiency and management of their 300 ha of cane land around Childers.

Pond series providing treatment and reuse of runoff water

Pond series providing treatment and reuse of runoff water

As part of their strategy to improve their farming efficiency, the Mamminos accessed support through the Reef Rescue program to purchase a GPS unit and construct a system for recycling of run-off water. Mark considers his farm to be his superannuation scheme and through projects such as this strives to do the best he can to improve his farm, rather than degrade it. While these changes have assisted in improving their farming efficiency, they have also gone a long way to reducing their off-site impacts as well.

Receiving funds to assist in the purchase of a GPS unit from the Reef Rescue program was a real catalyst for change for Mark. While the journey towards controlled traffic farming is a long one that may or may not be fully possible for Mark due to challenges such as wet weather harvesting. The changes he has made are helping him successfully implement minimum tillage farming at the very least. This is evident through modifications to his cultivation implements that allow reduced disturbance of the soil through controlled traffic wheel lines. This is only the start of change though. Mark is currently exploring opportunities to install rate controllers in his fertiliser bin and on a new boom spray rig he recently purchased, to improve production and efficiency by applying the right amount of fertilizer and chemical at the right time and location to meet his crop needs. In addition to these efficiency gains, Mark is also aware of the environmental benefits of such a controlled approach, in particular the reduced potential for nutrients and chemicals to leave the farm, changes all instigated through the acquisition of the GPS unit.

Mark is starting to see the results of these changes already. Into his second cane rotation cycle now, having adopted farming with a GPS about six years ago, Mark is seeing his soil health improve with reduced compaction and better structure in his centre rows, and less offsite movement of sediment due to erosion. Previously he would have made up to 10 passes over his crop during the growing cycle, now it’s down to two or three with good results, making farming not only quicker, but more environmentally friendly due to less soil disturbance.

With the support of Reef Rescue, Mark also constructed an innovative water recycling system through a series of ponds. Previously, runoff water from a large catchment area including adjacent cane farms, rural residential properties and a golf course would flow directly into the nearby waterway without any treatment, carrying nutrients, chemicals and sediment with it. Through modifying an existing drain into a series of six ponds, Mark is now able to catch this runoff water and reapply it as irrigation water on his farm, reducing the movement of pollutants off farm.

When asked to comment on his changes from conventional farming to conservation farming, Mark feels that he doesn’t know what conventional farming is, as every year his farming system has had to evolve. However, with support from Reef Rescue, he has been given the incentive and opportunity to improve his farming system for the environment whilst achieving production outcomes a few years earlier than he previously would have been able to without it.

Twenty-five years ago efficiency gains for Mark were to convert to green cane harvesting, today it’s precision agriculture and controlled traffic farming with a GPS. Who knows what is in store for farming around the corner, except that farmers like Mark are now better prepared to adapt and change to improve their efficiency while reducing their impact on the environment.