Helping farmers get the most out of their soil
HANNAH Russell is making strides towards helping build a more profitable, productive and sustainable agricultural sector in Bundaberg.
After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in 2015 and gaining experience in Bundaberg Sugar’s laboratory, the 25-year-old has begun a graduate program with the Queensland Farmer’s Federation.
With her placement in Bundaberg through Sugar Research Australia and funding from the Australian Government’s Reef Water Quality program, Ms Russell is helping farmers understand the blocks they grow on through electromagnetic and elevation mapping.
“Electromagnetic mapping – which is the main part of the project – it’s about inducing a current into the soil which gives back an electromagnetic reading,” Ms Russell said.
“It really depends on the clay content, moisture content, compaction and iron content and all that sort of stuff.
“It gives back a map that has a range of variation on it.
“From there you go out and ground truth – you take soil samples and really find out what’s in your soil across your block and from there you can apply variable-rate gypsum or other things to fix impediments such as sodicity or salinity.”
But helping farmers identify specific soil composition on their blocks isn’t the only project Ms Russell has been working on.
She is also working on something called AquaTill, a high-pressure water jet that cuts through trash without compromising soil structures.
“I’m actually working on this in conjunction with my mentor James Ogden-Brown at SRA and also Greg Butler from the South Australian No Till Farmers Association,” she said.
“AquaTill is an ultra-high water pressure implement that uses a 50,000 psi water jet to slice through trash.
“Traditionally, growers used coulters and tines and discs to incorporate trash into the soil.
“Depending on how many passes they go over it with, it damages the soil structure.
“With AquaTill, because it slices cleanly through the trash, you can retain the soil structure and soil protection through the trash and can use the disc-opener behind it to inject inputs into the soil at the required depth.
“We’re hoping to do further modifications on the implement to directly plant fallow crops like legumes directly into the soil.”
Ms Russell has also published media on topics like irrigation techniques, pump considerations and the AquaTill project.
“The Agricultural Extension Traineeship with QFF has opened many avenues for me,” she said.
“It’s been a fantastic opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges facing sugarcane growers and water quality.
“I look forward to continuing to work in this field in the future, and fully recommend the program to any graduate looking for a fulfilling career in an outstanding industry.
“I’ve been really impressed with the collaborativeness between all the sugarcane growers and the productivity services and the other agronomic advisers here in the region.”