Australia's 'steps' towards better fertilization practices

During his presentation at the seminar organized by Tecnicaña, Bernard Schroeder explained what the program used in that country is for growers to adopt better nutrient management practices in the field.

Bernard Schroeder has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, and a PhD in Soil and Nutrition Sciences from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Sustainability is one of the great challenges of the sugarcane agribusiness on a global scale. How far has Australia come in its search for sustainable fertilization?

I am sure that anywhere in the world when farmers use fertilizers they do not intentionally affect the environment, but they do so when they misuse them.

At some point in Australia environmental organizations and the Government were very concerned because many of the fertilizers used in agriculture, such as sugarcane cultivation, were found to end up in the sea and affect the Great Barrier Reef.

The main problem with nitrogenous fertilizers is that nitrates (a form of nitrogen usable by plants) move very easily in the soil when applied in large quantities and cause a eutrophication process in water bodies (abnormally high presence of nutrients in an ecosystem), which alters the natural habitat. For example, unusual and excessive growth of algae implies increased oxygen consumption, which ends up affecting the fish population. Without a doubt, it is necessary to take care of the coral reef, but it is also necessary to maintain the productivity of farmers.

Initially, the Queensland government attempted to establish regulations on the use of fertilizers, but it was not necessary because the farmers themselves are aware that the soil is the basis of the economy, and as many are also fishermen and they know the damage they can cause to the ecosystem. , most of them are committed to using best fertilization management practices.

What did you do?

Within the framework of these best management practices, six easy steps were implemented that have contributed to the proper management of fertilizers by the industry:

  1. Know the soils
  2. Understand how each nutrient behaves in the soil.
  3. Do continuous soil analysis.
  4. Adopt technical recommendations on the management of specific nutrients by soil.
  5. Check that the doses and sources of nutrients are appropriate.
  6. Have a history of soil and tissue analysis.

The six easy steps are geared toward providing a sound scientific basis for making nutrient management plans in the field and continuous improvement throughout the growing cycles.

Do those six steps apply across the industry?

In the area there are too many sugarcane growers and it is very difficult to review what each one does, but the importance of doing soil analysis has been emphasized, so that every time they go to sow they carry out soil sampling, looking at how these they behave and, according to the results, adjust the nutrient management plans. In addition, they are suggested to use other plant species as indicators to know the soils, keep a history to know how they are behaving and make comparisons between production cycles.

And where is productivity?

There can be two scenarios: if little fertilizer is applied, the crop will be affected and the expected productivity will not be obtained; On the contrary, by applying too much fertilizer, the crop will remain stable but more will have been invested. Ideally, a benefit / cost balance should be achieved, for which site-specific fertilization needs to be managed.

Three keys to taking soil samples

1Taking a representative soil sample for analysis in the laboratory is the critical point to obtain a reliable result. The general recommendation is to take a composite sample of approximately 1 kg representing up to 10 hectares of land.

2Soil samples must be taken in sufficient time for processing in the laboratory, especially in batches to be renewed. The taking should be done 20-30 days before the scheduled date for planting. In soca cane crops they can be taken immediately after harvest.

3Soil samples should not be taken near sites where soil has been removed from the lower to the upper horizons or where soil has been added from other sites, such as in the streets (alleys, highways).

More information:


Cenicaña has a soil analysis service to recommend fertilizers. Chemistry Laboratory. Telephone: (2) 687 66 11 - ext. 5149

To consult

The memories of the seminar on Physiology and Nutrition of sugarcane are available at

Information letter
Year 2 / Number 2 / December 2014

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