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  • Che Trendell

Success for multispecies

Farmacist Mackay has recently completed a GBRF funded Innovation project focused on incorporating multispecies break crops in the sugarcane system. The key aims of the project were:

1. Develop affordable and practical ways to plant multispecies break crops using existing farm implements

2. Develop management strategies to assist growers with species selection, weed control, crop termination, sourcing seed, etc

3. Determine if there are any soil health benefits from planting multispecies crops in a subtropical sugarcane system.

Planting equipment

During the project, Che and the Farmacist team found the use of air seeders on existing implements to be the most cost effective and easy to install means of planting different seed sizes during the sugarcane fallow. The implements trialled with the air seeders included wavy disc, rotary hoe, power harrow, weeder rake, bed renovator, and fertiliser box. An air seeder was even installed on a sugarcane harvester - a first for the industry - which successfully grew a multispecies break crop.

Farmacist Mackay has air seeders, a crimp roller to assist with crop termination, and an inter-row wavy disc planter available for growers wanting to plant a multispecies crop.

Management of a multispecies crop

There are some critical management decisions which need to be considered prior to planting multispecies crops. These include:

  • The key objectives for planting the crop (soil protection, weed control, fodder)

  • Weed management – opportunities to maintain trash blanket; species selection to allow for weed control during the crop; planting and termination timing; selecting species that will not become weeds in the following cane crop

  • Field conditions – low pH, sodicity, water logging, previous herbicide use

  • Planting method – air seeder, direct drill, spreader

  • Seed size and inoculants

  • Crop termination

  • And using the above factors to determine species selection and planting rate.

Farmacist has developed tailored species mixes to meet the objectives of different farming systems. One limitation growers identified when planting multispecies is the fact they end up with part bags of different species as they do not need the full bags to complete the mix.

To address this barrier, Farmacist Mackay offers seed mixes, as well as individual seeds sold by the kilograms needed rather than by the bag. Mixes can be tailored to individual situations to maximise the benefits for your farm and ensure success.

Soil benefits from multispecies break crop

Farmacist conducted two replicated trials as well as monitoring at 19 sampling points in the Mackay region. Using before and after soil samples (a total of 38 samples), a trend for changes in soil chemical properties was identified. These included:

  • 89% of samples showed an increase in phosphorus Colwell following the multispecies crop

  • 84% of samples had an increase in organic carbon, an increase in potassium % and Nitric K, and an increase in EC (1:5).

Soil physical conditions

Measurements were collected from a replicated trial before and after a multispecies crop and showed improvements in effective rooting depth, earthworm counts and water infiltration as a result of planting multispecies crops.


Farmacist has developed detailed knowledge and expertise to plant, manage and monitor multispecies crops. We have seen first-hand the benefits of planting these crops in a sugarcane fallow and have been involved in monitoring to identify the actual benefits. Farmacist is continuing to promote the use of these break crops in the sugarcane system and, to address the issue associated with ordering excess seed, we are now offering growers tailored species mixes with the ability to purchase seed by the kilogram rather than bag.

Farmacist Mackay would like to thank all our contributing growers for trialling equipment, planting new and exciting species, volunteering for case studies or trial sites and hosting field days.

The Innovative Multispecies Project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government's Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and Farmacist.


This is an extract from the full article that was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Farmacist News. To read the full article, download the printable version using the link below:

Multispecies results Summer 2023
Download PDF • 3.15MB


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