, Volume 1, Issue 1-2, pp 51-71

Nitrogen Management Guidelines for Sugarcane Production in Australia: Can These Be Modified for Wet Tropical Conditions Using Seasonal Climate Forecasting?

Abstract

Sugarcane is a highly valuable crop grown in tropical and subtropical climates worldwide primarily for the production of sucrose-based products. The Australian sugarcane industry is located in close proximity to sensitive environments and the apparent declining health of the Great Barrier Reef has been linked to damaging levels of land-based pollutants entering reef waters as a result of sugarcane cultivation undertaken in adjacent catchments. Unprecedented environmental scrutiny of N fertiliser application rates is necessitating improved N fertiliser management strategies in sugarcane. Over time the focus of N fertiliser management has shifted from maximising production to optimising profitability and most recently to improved environmental sustainability. However, current N calculations are limited in their ability to match N fertiliser inputs to forthcoming crop requirements. Seasonal climate forecasts are being used to improve decision-making capabilities across different sectors of the sugarcane value chain. Climate is a key driver of crop growth, N demand and N loss processes, but climate forecasts are not being used to guide N management strategies. Seasonal climate forecasts could be used to develop N management strategies for ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ years by guiding application rate, timing and/or frequency of N inputs and the benefit of using alternative forms of N fertiliser. The use of seasonal climate forecasts may allow more environmentally sensitive yet profitable N management strategies to be developed for the Australian sugarcane industry.