North Queensland cane growers are reaping the benefits of a new technology that is not only targeting nitrogen loss but also improving the effectiveness of fertiliser.
The StoolZippa, a NQ Dry Tropics Lower Burdekin Major Grant project, is a new implement used in cane ratoons as a closing wheel system, ensuring complete slot closure to minimise fertiliser and pesticide loss.
The implement is used during routine farming, providing complete soil coverage.
The new method is gaining traction, with trials showing a reduced risk of nitrogen loss through denitrification and volatilisation, and reduced pesticide loss, where the StoolZippa was used.
More nitrogen equals better quality cane, improved water quality, and less fertiliser wastage, and Ayr farm manager Francesco Delacruz is one of the lucky recipients who is touting the StoolZippas as the way of the future.
After hearing about the StoolZippa from agronomist Heidi Hatch at Farmacist, Mr Delacruz began to use the implement on his 600ha at Ayr in August.
"I was using the press wheel for two years and dragging the chain," he said.
"Heidi was doing my recommendations for fertiliser I use...doing the soil testing, mapping...followed the blueprint (of the StoolZippa) and recommended it to me.
"It's lovely. I really like it. It really covers it properly...where you split.
"I know we are going to lose less fertiliser, so we're saving money."
The farm manager has been working in the area since 2005, relocating from Mackay to take advantage of the "better watering" in Ayr.
As of last Thursday, his crushing rate was sitting at 91 per cent, with a plan to finish on November 29.
Mr Delacruz said the StoolZippa could be a benefit for growers next season.
"This year I put some marks where I used the press wheel and the StoolZippa. I will see the difference," he said.
Clare cane grower Scott Harness has been in the industry for 16 years, and received his own StoolZippa a couple of months ago.
Through his association with NQ Dry Tropics and Farmacist, he has been kept "in the loop" when it comes to keeping up with the latest technological developments.
"I think it's a good thing, especially now that I've got yield mapping on machines and GPS and you can just keep adding layers on your maps and more data," he said.
"As much as people probably don't want to take (new technology) on, I think if you can just keep taking a little bit on as it's offered, as a helping hand, it's beneficial in the long run.
"It's the savings, rather than just a blanket approach.
"I only got them just this season, probably about a third of the way through. I've done a bit of work with them, not a lot of work, but so far they've been pretty good."
Previously, Mr Harness said previously he would stool split the fertiliser into the soil and run a roller over it to ensure "a good seal".
"Whereas now, these StoolZippas do tend to push the dirt in and get a good seal...it surprised me how good they are, even in heavy clay country," he said.
"They really put some cover back on your fertiliser, hopefully eliminating our losses.
"They talk of 20-30 per cent loss...but if we can stop that, you've got to be better off."
While his season is done and dusted for another year, he is interested to see the benefits of the StoolZippa for next season.
"This season seemed very slow considering we had a dry year...our (Burdekin) mill's performance wasn't as good as it has been the past few years," he said.
"I know there's quite a lot of people interested in (the StoolZippa).
"Everyone sits on the fence of course to see how they go, but the guys I've spoken to who already had them seem happy with them.
"Some have press wheels, some just have chains, but that's nowhere near as good as this. It doesn't jam up with mud or sticks...it just seems to work well and I think it'll be a good thing for the guys that fertilise in this system."