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Sugar Cane

Horticulture areas where sugar cane is grown (i.e. canelands).

 

MILLENNIUM ECOSYSTEM ASSESSMENT REPORTING CATEGORY

Cultivated Ecosystems
 

What ecosystem functions do sugarcane perform?

Young sugarcane ecosystems lack the ground cover benefits that mature ecosystems provide.

In Australia, sugar is made from the juice of a giant tropical grass that looks similar to bamboo called sugarcane. Through photosynthesis, sugar is produced in the leaves of the plant and then becomes stored in the hard stems. The areas where sugarcane plants are grown are often called 'canelands'. Table 1 below presents the relative magnitude sugar cane ecosystems perform different ecosystem functions (relative to other ecosystems) in SEQ.

Caneland or sugarcane ecosystems are cultivated ecosystems, meaning they rely heavily on human regulation of the system (e.g. to regulate nutrients) and they are managed by people for specific purposes.  The two main purposes sugar cane is grown is for food (e.g. sugar production); or for other raw materials such as biofuels (e.g. bioethanol an alcohol made by fermentation mostly from the carbohydrates produced in sugar). In SEQ, sugar production has traditionally been the most recognised purpose for the establishment of these ecosystems.

Sugarcane needs strong sunlight, fertile soil and lots of water (at least 1.5 metres of rain each year or access to irrigation) to grow.  As sugarcane requires lots of water, this landcover is usually grown on floodplains, regulating water by accommodating the outflow from upstream catchments while minimising flood heights in estuaries, river mouths and adjacent land. As well, sugarcane regulates the spatial and temporal distribution of water through their physical structure and by absorbing  water through their roots. 

Like all vegetation cover, sugarcane provides soil retention through root structure and the vegetation itself limits the erosive impact of rainfall on bare soils. The by-products of sugarcane production can be recycled on cane farms thus improving soil formation and retentive properties. As sugarcane ecosystems are generally densely grown monocultures and grown in flood prone areas, they provide a high biological control function with limited other plants being able to permanently  colonise these areas and few fauna species inhabiting them.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other Ecosystem Reporting Categories) sugar cane ecosystems perform each ecosystem function.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation            
Climate Regulation            
Disturbance Regulation            
Water Regulation            
Soil Retention            
Nutrient Regulation            
Waste Treatment and Assimilation            
Pollination            
Biological Control            
Barrier Effect of Vegetation            
Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats            
Soil Formation            
Provisioning Functions
Food            
Raw Materials            
Water Supply            
Genetic Resources            
Provision of Shade and Shelter            
Pharmacological Resources            
Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity            

    

What types of sugar cane ecosystems are in SEQ?

There is only one type of sugarcane ecosystem although different management practices may be applied at different locations.

 

What is the area and extent of sugarcane in SEQ? 

Sugarcane ecosystems cover approximately 193 km2, 0.0.77% of SEQ. This map identifies two major areas where sugar cane is being grown. This includes the Sunshine Coast cane lands in the North and the Rocky Point canelands in the South (east of Beenleigh). This ecosystem is found on low lying areas.

 

What is the vulnerability of sugar cane and threats to this ecosystem in SEQ?

Sugarcane ecosystems are biologically resilient ecosystems when located in environmentally appropriate areas (e.g. areas with strong sunlight, fertile soil and lots of water). As a managed ecosystem however, their persistence requires a viable industry to support agricultural land use. The Sunshine Coast region for example, provides competitive advantages for primary production, including subtropical climate with high and reliable rainfall and rare severe frosting, arable soils, absence of major air pollutants and close proximity to markets. However, since the closure of Moreton Sugar Mill in 2003 the canelands are steadily being subdivided leading to less chance of achieving farm viability, more impervious surfaces and less land for pondage. These lands are now infested with groundsel, wild dogs and other pest species that also have impacts on neighbouring high conservation areas.

Due to the projected effects of climate change, the extent of water inundation of the land is set to worsen into the future. As opposed to the inherent climate variability, it is broadly anticipated there will be permanent changes in the climate regime. There are two key impacts of climate change on the hydrologic function of the canelands in SEQ. Firstly, the day to day functionality of the area will become significantly impaired if regularly inundated as a result of sea level rise and due to the low-lying nature of the land. Secondly, climate change forecasts for SEQ predict more frequent extreme weather events, including more intense bursts of coastal rainfall and increased intensities of tropical cyclones. This will increase the flood hazard in these catchments with regard to depths of flood water, rate of rise and duration of inundation.

   

How do we manage sugar cane ecosystems in SEQ?

The choice of crop species and agronomic management practices can play a large part in determining the capacity of the agricultural sector to provide a sink for greenhouse gases. There is huge capacity for compost to be generated from locally produced organic residues and used to improve soil health on these marginal soils and minimise the use of synthetic fertilisers. The tree legume crop, pongamia (millettia) pinnata, can be grown on these marginal lands for high quality biodiesel production. A polyculture of crops including vegetables, bushfoods and bamboo can be intercropped. The Queensland Government's Department of Natural Resources and Mines and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry provide support to assist SEQ industries to increase productivity, improve sustainability and adapt to change.