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Row spacing and planting density effects on the growth and yield of sugarcane. 2. Strategies for the adoption of controlled traffic

A. L. Garside A D , M. J. Bell B and B. G. Robotham C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

Sugar Yield Decline Joint Venture.

A BSES LTD, c/-CSIRO, PMB Aitkenvale, Townsville, Qld 4814, Australia.

B Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 23, Kingaroy, Qld 4610, Australia.

C Scan Consulting, 5 Ernie Twyford St, Bundaberg, Qld 4670, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Crop and Pasture Science 60(6) 544-554
Submitted: 15 September 2008  Accepted: 3 March 2009   Published: 12 June 2009


Controlled traffic (matching wheel and row spacing) is being promoted as a means to manage soil compaction in the Australian sugar industry. However, machinery limitations dictate that wider row spacings than the standard 1.5-m single row will need to be adopted to incorporate controlled traffic and many growers are reluctant to widen row spacing for fear of yield penalties. To address these concerns, contrasting row configuration and planting density combinations were investigated for their effect on cane and sugar yield in large-scale experiments in the Gordonvale, Tully, Ingham, Mackay, and Bingera (near Bundaberg) sugarcane-growing regions of Queensland, Australia. The results showed that sugarcane possesses a capacity to compensate for different row configurations and planting densities through variation in stalk number and individual stalk weight. Row configurations ranging from 1.5-m single rows (the current industry standard) to 1.8-m dual rows (50 cm between duals), 2.1-m dual (80 cm between duals) and triple (65 cm between triples) rows, and 2.3-m triple rows (65 cm between triples) produced similar yields. Four rows (50 cm apart) on a 2.1-m configuration (quad rows) produced lower yields largely due to crop lodging, while a 1.8-m single row configuration produced lower yields in the plant crop, probably due to inadequate resource availability (water stress/limited radiation interception).

The results suggest that controlled traffic can be adopted in the Australian sugar industry by changing from a 1.5-m single row to 1.8-m dual row configuration without yield penalty. Further, the similar yields obtained with wider row configurations (2 m or greater with multiple rows) in these experiments emphasise the physiological and environmental plasticity that exists in sugarcane. Controlled traffic can be implemented with these wider row configurations (>2 m), although it will be necessary to carry out expensive modifications to the current harvester and haul-out equipment.

There were indications from this research that not all cultivars were suited to configurations involving multiple rows. The results suggest that consideration be given to assessing clones with different growth habits under a range of row configurations to find the most suitable plant types for controlled traffic cropping systems.

Additional keywords: multiple rows, row configuration, soil compaction, cane harvesters.


The research reported in this paper was carried as part of the Sugar Yield Decline Joint Venture program and was funded by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation, BSES LTD (formerly the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations), and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Technical assistance was provided by John Berthelsen, Win Chappell, and Neil Halpin. We also thank the canegrowers who provided the experiment sites: Tom and Gaynor Watters (Gordonvale), BSES Tully Experiment Station (Tully), Morris Brothers (Ingham), Charles McLennan (Mackay), and Bundaberg Sugar Limited (Bingera). Helpful comments on the manuscript were provided by Drs Peter Allsopp, Bob Lawn, and Geoff-Inman Bamber.


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