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The challenge

Trusting water quality data versus going with your gut feel

Nitrogen losses from intensive crop production into wet tropical catchments of north Queensland are a major threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef. However, owing to the lack of information on these losses and the extreme variability in climate and rainfall over very small distances, it's been difficult for growers to link nitrogen that appears in the environment and nitrogen management on their farm. There's also been the expectation that changing fertiliser management practices could affect crop yields.

Our response

Harnessing the digital revolution to support fertiliser application decisions

We're developing a suite of apps, called 1622™, to deliver information services to farmers that address their concerns, make for faster change in farm management practices and help growers reduce impacts of cropping on the Great Barrier Reef. Our 1622™ apps are at different stages of product development. Our first app, 1622WQ™ ('water quality'), was released in January 2020.

  • 1622WQ™ provides real-time water quality information. It allows farmers to see, for example, the influence of recent rainfall on water quality or whether management actions such as recent fertilising has affected nitrogen losses. Farmers can also see the seasonal climate outlook to help plan ahead.
  • The 1622WhatIf?™ function of the app allows farmers to evaluate the risks and benefits of changing nitrogen fertiliser applications. For example, 'what if I change my fertiliser rate, harvest date and/or fertilising date and how would that affect my crop yields and nitrogen losses?'
  • 1622Crop™ uses our drone-based LiDAR system, satellites and other novel sensing technologies to help farmers use less nitrogen-based fertiliser without affecting their profits. Growers can compare different management strategies in real time through the season.

The results

1622WQ™ meeting industry needs

For the first time, farmers now have real-time information on key factors for growing sugarcane. 1622WQ™ brings together information on sugarcane production and environmental performance to help farmers:

  • evaluate their crop management
  • facilitate better decisions and
  • help them protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Following a recent independent evaluation, we’ve found that our 1622 apps could bring $20.4m - $62.9m in economic benefits from 2021 - 2030, mainly in cost savings from reduced fertiliser use. Read more on the evaluation.

[Music plays and image shows the earth and changes to show the ocean from the air. Text appears: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has Outstanding Universal Value, including high environmental, cultural and economic value.]

[Image changes to show coral and fish under water. Text appears: It is imperative we protect this natural wonder. Unfortunately, the Reef is under threat from a number of sources. Challenges to the Reef include global warming and land-based pollution.]

[Images changes to show trees, paddocks, a river and coastline. Text appears: Land-based pollution includes nutrients, sediments and chemicals discharged from agriculture. Agricultural pollutants are both a threat in themselves, and reduce the resilience of Reef ecosystems to impacts of global warming.]

[Images changes to show a tractor and sugarcane and text appears: The Australian sugar industry is located adjacent to the Reef.]

[Image changes to show rain and changes to show coastline. Text appears: During the tropical monsoonal wet season, nutrients from sugarcane farms wash into rivers and out to the Reef.]

[Image changes to show underwater and crown-of-thorns starfish and text appears: These nutrients stimulate populations of crown-of-thorns starfish, which cause significant damage to the Reef.]

[Images changes to a tractor harvesting sugarcane and changes to show someone handling cane and text appears: This is why we are working on a number of fronts to reduce the amount of fertiliser applied on farms. Our work is demonstrating that farmers can apply less fertiliser without impacting their crops.]

[Image changes to show a drone taking off and flying over sugarcane and text appears: We are using a drone-based LiDAR system to see if it can provide guided fertilisation plans. Our LiDAR system is unique in its ability to measure the height and density of the crop.]

[Image changes to show colourful Lidar output and text appears: We can track crop performance from establishment to harvest. Our data identifies fertiliser deficient sugarcane 10 weeks after planting. If every farmer had access this data, they could make better fertiliser use decisions.]

[Image changes to show a map of the Queensland coastline with a graph and text appears: So we’ve developed the 1622 platform. It helps farmers optimise their nitrogen fertiliser management to help protect the Reef.]

[Image changes to show fish and coral underwater and text appears: The resulting reduction in agricultural nutrient flows could be a big win for the Great Barrier Reef and its long-term survival.]

[Music plays the CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]

Helping sugarcane farmers protect the Great Barrier Reef

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