In this post, we dive deep into one of the most pressing concerns, not only in the sugar cane industry but in almost all industries across Australia: What can we do to make the industry more environmentally friendly?
As we discussed in one of our previous posts, one of the ways automatic lubrication systems (ALS) help to be environmentally friendly is by using eco-friendly lubricants, like recycled lubricants. However, lubricant is just one small part of an industry and how is operates. Still, starting small is a great way to set achievable goals and build up commitment.
Research from a paper published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) noted that the sugar cane industry is among those with the worst environmental impact. This is largely because cultivating and processing sugar cane can cause habitat loss, and involves intense water consumption and heavy agro-chemicals.
But that doesn’t mean that the industry isn’t moving in the right direction. There are 5 key things that the sugar cane industry (along with other industries) are doing and can do to reduce their environmental impact.
Efficient Irrigation Systems Use
Sugar cane is one of the many crops that need a lot of water to grow. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, depending on the climate, it needs 1,500–2,500 mm evenly distributed over its growing season. The most common irrigation systems used for it are surface or flood/furrow, overhead sprinklers or drag line/centre-pivot and drip/trickle.
Of all the irrigation systems used for sugar cane, drip/trickle, which delivers water to the crop plant or its root zone, is the most efficient, or has the highest ratio of crop yield to the amount of water consumed. According to National Geographic, it can double or triple water productivity and boost crop per drop.
Inorganic Fertiliser Use Minimisation
Fertilisers are a great help to sugar cane farmers – they provide additional nutrients that help the crops grow. But some fertilisers need to be used mindfully. When used in excess, come can have significant adverse effect on the soil and crop yield.
Examples of such fertilisers are inorganic nitrogen fertilisers, which are chemical-based fertilisers that contain high levels of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the nutrients that crops need the most to grow, but too much nitrogen can lead to soil acidification, or the soil becoming excessively acidic. If soil becomes too acidic, it will lead to a significant decline in crop production.
Instead of inorganic fertiliser, organic options like compost and cow manure based fetilisers need to be used more widely.
Integrated Pest Management
Also called integrated pest control, integrated pest management refers to programs that combine practices developed to manage pests in an effective, economical and environmentally friendly way. They’re made up of three types of “control”:
Cultural control, or the use of manual or mechanical means to make the environment uninhabitable for pests.
Biological control, or the use of insects that are predatory or parasitic to pests but are harmless to crops and farmers.
Chemical control, or the use of selective pesticides, or pesticides that only target insects harmful to crops, if the cultural and biological controls were ineffective.
The less pesticides, the more prevention from negatively impacting the environment.
Soil Health Maintenance
Burning sugar cane to remove the outer leaves from their stalks before they’re harvested used to be common practice. It made harvesting them easier and quicker, but it degraded the soil’s quality by causing it to lose moisture and organic matter.
The sugar cane industry largely got rid of preharvest sugar cane burning by shifting to green sugar cane harvesting, or harvesting sugar cane without burning it first, and trash blanketing, or the practice of leaving the sugar cane’s outer leaves on the soil to serve as mulch.
The more invested in maintaining soil health, the better the crop yield will be without negatively impacting the environment.
Sugar Mill Pollution Reduction or Elimination
Like most production facilities, sugar mills generate pollution. Two examples are fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, and sewage.
To reduce the fly ash that sugar mills generates, you can dry it before using it so it burns more efficiently and generates less emissions. To eliminate the sewage, consider treating it and recycling it into water for cooling towers and spray ponds.
There are many others ways to reduce pollution in the sugar cane industry, and many companies are making the move towards a more environmentally friendly process.