A well-known sugar by-product looks to be the cane industry’s best ally in reducing farm fertiliser run off and improving water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

Independent research by the University of Southern Queensland has found replacing traditional granular fertiliser with liquid fertiliser – that includes molasses – reduces nitrogen leaching by up to 17 per cent.

The “Harnessing microbial slow-release to improve fertiliser profitability and sustainability” research project was led by Dr Pam Pittaway in north Queensland’s Herbert River region with support from Liddle and Sons Agricultural Services in Ingham – the manufacturers of LiquaForce liquid fertilisers.

The research was officially presented on the 19th of April 2018 at the Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists’ Conference in Mackay.

Our results show that molasses-amended liquid fertiliser should be considered an enhanced efficiency fertiliser as it significantly reduces the risk of fertiliser nitrogen leaching,” Dr Pittaway said.

This is a major finding for the sugar cane industry as we can confidently say that liquid fertiliser as a whole improves the retention of nitrogen in soil.

Dr Pittaway’s research team specifically tested a liquid fertiliser blend manufactured by LiquaForce marketed as ‘Big Shot’ – a fertiliser developed for ratooning cane made up of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and sulfur, as well as the addition of organic components.

“The complex sugars used in BigShot slow down the release of fertiliser nitrogen by stimulating soil microbes to take up luxury amounts of nitrogen (N), converting some fertilizer to organic N,” Dr Pittaway said.

“So the reduced amount of fertiliser required for ratoon cane – and the improved work rate associated with applying the liquid product, improves the growers’ bottom line and reduced off-site nitrogen loss improves the environment.”

The research found that 39 per cent of the nitrogen from the BigShot liquid fertiliser blend was still in the soil 119 days after application, compared to just 27 per cent with granular fertiliser.

“This means 73% of the nitrogen from the granular product and only 61% of the liquid product was lost – mostly as leachate,” Dr Pittaway said.

“This superior supply of nutrients provided to ratoon cane by BigShot liquid fertiliser, justifies the reduced application rate recommended by LiquaForce, and represents significant savings for growers and significant savings for the Great Barrier Reef.”

Managing Director of LiquaForce, Cameron Liddle, said the expert results were of huge advantage to all producers working alongside the Great Barrier Reef.

“We started manufacturing liquid fertilisers 15 years ago with a focus on increasing farming profitability through increased tonnage and sugarcane CCS and overall fertilising efficiencies,” Mr Liddle said.

“The core aim is to increase the longevity of the ratooning sugar cane cycle through soil health but also to ensure that we are formulating a product that has a positive impact on the environment – specifically water quality and the broader natural resources we’re lucky enough to have in north Queensland.”

Mr Liddle said having impartial evidence that categorically proves that LiquaForce liquid fertiliser improves the economic and environmental sustainability of sugar cane production for growers signaled a landmark day for the LiquaForce brand, and all the clients they supply.

“It hasn’t been something that’s happened overnight – the adoption of liquid over granular is an ongoing process we have worked on and will continue to work on with hundreds of growers along the eastern seaboard,” he said.

But the results can now speak for themselves and we’re thrilled to be in a position to make life easier for farmers and also make a beneficial impact on the future of the Great Barrier Reef.”


 The organic component of Big Shot reduces the risk of fertiliser nitrogen leaching

  • Soil microbes convert some nitrogen from the Big Shot blend into slow-release, organic nitrogen
  • Compared to granular fertiliser, more nitrogen remains in the soil 119 days after applying BigShot – meaning less fertiliser is needed to supply ratoon cane over the peak summer growing season

 Funding for the research was provided through an Australian Commonwealth Innovation Connections grant to Liddle and Sons Agricultural Services.

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