Scientists are trialling new fertilizers in far North Queensland that could reduce levels of run-off containing high levels of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), a key Great Barrier Reef water pollutant.

Prof Mike Bell from the University of Queensland is leading a NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub project that explores the potential of Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEFs) to achieve reductions in nitrogen run-off in the sugarcane industry, without impacting farmers’ bottom line.

EEFs include fertilizer types that release nitrogen into the soil at a controlled (slower) rate or prevent nitrogen converting into easily-lost nitrate.

The fertilizers are being trialed at several sites across northern Queensland, including Tully, Mackay, Silkwood and the Burdekin.

Prof Bell said the results of the project could help farmers reduce both waste and environmental impact.

“Right now, offsite losses of applied nitrogen are a feature of some cane growing districts, and the most reliable way of preventing a resulting loss of cane yield has been to apply lots of extra nitrogen,” he said.

“The lost nitrogen contributes nothing to crop yields and can end up in the water system. Hopefully through this project we can demonstrate that EEFs can be used to minimize those nitrogen losses, eliminating the need to apply those high N rates without sacrificing crop yield.”


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