General News

23 April, 2023

Young cane grower future focused

A CANEGROWERS FEATURE: A philosophy of continual improvement has set young grower Liam Wallace on a course to becoming one of the Tablelands’ best performing cane growers.

Mareeba’s Liam Wallace has quicky become one of the most successful cane farmers in the north after a life changing experience altered his perspective on farming. PHOTO: Lea Coghlan – CANEGROWERS
Mareeba’s Liam Wallace has quicky become one of the most successful cane farmers in the north after a life changing experience altered his perspective on farming. PHOTO: Lea Coghlan – CANEGROWERS


The 27-year-old has had a steep learning curve in growing sugarcane, but he’s fast becoming one of the industry’s rising stars.

With just four years of experience growing the crop in his role of supervisor at CQB Services’ Biboohra Sands property, Liam is quietly achieving yields well above the local average and, last season, was awarded the Tableland District’s highest average CCS unit at 15.3.

Liam is no stranger to agriculture, having grown up in Mareeba before moving to his mother’s farm in Dalby as a young adult.

He worked for cotton growers in the Darling Downs region before relocating to Western Australia to take on a role on the second largest grain farm in Australia.

It was there, while performing what most farmers would consider a routine task, that Liam suffered a significant injury.

A spray rig tyre fell onto him and broke his hip.

“I had to sit there for awhile before someone found me, so I had a fair bit of time to contemplate life,” he said.

“It was one of those life-altering moments.”

The injury resulted in a reconstruction and six months of recovery, as well as a return to his hometown in Far North Queensland with a fresh sense of ambition.

This renewed drive and determination was quickly put into practice through an opportunity to supervise CQB Ser-vices’ sand quarry just north of Mareeba.

The land had recently been acquired by his best mate’s families, the Stankovichs and Musumecis.

Originally, CQB’s interest in the property was focused on the land’s commercial sand resource, however this quickly progressed into a unique business model combining sugar-cane growing with the quarry.

Both sides of the business benefit as sand materials are extracted and sold to create substantial water storage for the cane farm, in essence value-adding to maximise land potential.

“Basically, the end goal is to create a self-sustaining farm in terms of water,” Liam said.

“Currently the property has a 50-megalitre licence, so as we extract sand, we create water storage, allowing us to continually expand the farm. This minimises our risk and maximises our inputs to operate as efficiently as possible.

“I was guided by the direc-tors of the company and was lucky enough to be allowed to explore many different options and opportunities. Like we al-ways say at CQB, ‘it’s a process of continual improvement’.

“Obviously it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. It would have been around four months into working at CQB, and with lim-ited experience in cane farm-ing, I wanted to explore the grand idea of growing cotton, you know full of testosterone and all that.

“To start, we tried corn but that was a dismal failure to say the least, owing to army worms, pigs and a lack of water. It was a ‘getting-back-down-to-earth’ sort of moment.

“Our philosophy is that there is always a lesson to be learned and that was a good lesson for all of us.”

Well aware of his limited experience in sugarcane growing, Liam began a deep dive into learning all he could to produce the best crop.

He discovered that the trickiest issue to overcome was the implementation of an irrigation schedule.

“We ploughed everything out and started planting back with new seed cane – just a small patch to begin with so I could figure out how to grow it before the operation expanded,” Liam said.

“We grew 40 acres at the start, including two varieties, to see what would happen. We knew our soils were highly variable – we’ve got sand, clay, sand, clay – and we had to work out how to manage that.

“For each block we’ve probably got about four soil changes. We’ve played the average because we can’t just manage one soil type.”

Liam’s research led him to fine-tune his methods over the subsequent years, including introducing CCS mapping.

“I’m now charting CCS with a refractometer,” he said.

“When we get two months out (from harvest) I start mapping what the CCS is doing and then I can irrigate accordingly to achieve peak CCS when a certain block is cut.”

“I also created spreadsheets on water usage between clay and sands and then worked out the average for what I should put on and how best to manage the amount of water we have available at the time.

"We sourced a program to automate our main pivot, diesel pump and install moisture me-ters throughout that pivot.”

“Most farms might have one moisture meter per pivot, whereas we’ve got two now and we’re looking at increasing that to four.

“The information all comes back to my phone with a graph of where the moisture is and then I gauge it from there and irrigate as needed.

“We’ll have different seg-ments in the paddock so I can program the system to drop 6mm here and 20mm there, or as required.

“I’m just basically collecting as much information as I can to manage the farm better and easier.”

While Liam is aware his crop cycle is still to reach its traditional downward trajectory, he’s dreaming big – aiming for 130 tonnes per hectare with an average CCS of 15.

He’s even got his eye on 150 tonnes to the hectare but isn’t sure whether that’s achievable on his soils with a limited water supply.

To reach these goals, Liam is planning five-year ratoons with legumes planted on fallow blocks, while also exploring other methods of production.

“In time, 80 per cent of the farm will be under cane and 20 per cent will be under legumes and that will be the ideal rota-tion,” he said.

Liam is brimming with ideas and reckons he’s not the only young bloke keen to try new concepts. He’d like to establish a mentorship program in which young growers visit progressive farming operations in other cropping industries to enable them to tailor innovative methods used elsewhere to cane growing.

“I would love to see young growers provided with the op-portunity to be involved in a mentorship where they can go off, say to a cotton farm or a grain farm, and see a different way of doing things,” he said.

“There are whole different systems and technologies out there and they can bring those ideas back to their farm.

“I would love to gather several younger growers who are interested and send them off. It could lead to a much-needed big step-up for the industry.”

Liam believes together with exploring other cropping systems, there is also much to be learned from established sugar-cane growers at this early stage in his career.

“Establishing mentorship opportunities together with embracing new technologies could draw young people back to agriculture and may be the key to future-proofing farming as a viable business for next generations.”


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