Tweed Valley sugar cane farmer Robert Quirk. Picture: Liana Turner
Tweed Valley sugar cane farmer Robert Quirk. Picture: Liana Turner

Farmers turn to science to battle impacts of climate change

WET weather in winter is an unusual thing for the Northern Rivers.
And for sugar cane growers, too much of it is troubling.

Robert Quirk, who has been growing in the Tweed Valley for 60 years, said recent rain in late July set harvest work back.

“We hold the harvest off for a week now, we put that on the end of the season,” Mr Quirk said.

“It’s probably pushing (our planting) into December now, which is not very good for the next crop.

“You lose a week and it’s something you never catch up on.”

Mr Quirk’s farm is on low country so it’s hit hard when the region gets torrential downpours.

He’s recently invested in a third, stronger pump to help to dry out his field when they receive too much rain.

He believes climate “anomalies” like out-of-season wet periods have become more frequent and expects sea level rise will ultimately affect low-lying crops like his.

“The anomalies are happening more and more,” he said.

“At this time of year we hardly ever expect it to get this wet.”

Mr Quirk’s farm copped 900mm over two weeks in March this year.

“In March we pumped for 210 hours straight,” he said.

Tweed Valley sugar cane farmer Robert Quirk. Picture: Liana Turner
Tweed Valley sugar cane farmer Robert Quirk. Picture: Liana Turner

One way of diversifying his farm has been adding fields of lupus beans through the winter months.

Mr Quirk said it’s important for farmers to recognise the impacts of a changing climate.

“We have to become more scientific,” he said.

“We base our planting of the cane on when our soil temperature reaches a trigger point or is getting close to it.”

He said while warmer temperatures would likely bring some benefits to growers of heat-loving sugar cane, other impacts would be more destructive.

He said he’d been working with a “very helpful” Tweed Shire Council to discuss drainage issues in the area.

“I think before you can solve a problem you have to realise you have a problem,” he said.

“I think people are starting to realise now that we do have a problem and there are solutions.

“We should be working together.”


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