Crop Nutrition

Improving Nutrition Efficiency

Fertiliser application is one of the more expensive aspects of establishing and maintaining a sugarcane crop. It is therefore in a grower’s best interest to manage this investment through improved nutrient use efficiency. This can prove to be a complex subject as there are numerous interacting factors affecting how effectively the crop uses the nutrients.

All our advice and information on Crop Nutrition can be found in the various publications, videos and smartphone apps described below.

Dr Louis Titshall

Senior Soil Scientist


Senior Soil Scientist

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7437 (Direct)

Role & Overall Purpose
  • Undertake soil and plant nutrition research and develop recommendations for sugarcane production.
  • Transfer technology and best practices to growers and other stakeholders.
  • Promote best practices for soil health and site sustainability.
  • Mentor junior scientists and staff.

Soil chemistry and fertility, plant nutrition, soil and foliar diagnostics and analytics, soil organic matter, soil health, site sustainability monitoring, soil physics.

Research Interests
  • Soil fertility and plant nutrition.
  • Soil health and quality.
  • Rapid screening and diagnostic tools for soil and plant nutrition, and health monitoring.
  • Site sustainability monitoring.
  • Understanding the impacts of management practices on soil quality and function.
  • Conversion of science outcomes to practical best practice and operational guidelines.
  • Value-chain integration of research outcomes and operational practices.
Key Outcomes
  • Best operational practices for crop nutritional and soil health based on scientific outcomes.
  • Responsible use of soil amendments used in crop production.
  • Efficient tools and techniques for improved soil assessment and monitoring.
  • Adoption of sustainable practices that ensure long-term productivity and profitability of agroecosystems.
Key Publications

Taylor T, Hughes J, Titshall LW. 2016. Mineralogy of volcanically-derived, alluvial soils at Moshi, Tanzania. Soil Research 54(8): 926-936.Mthimkhulu S, Podwojewski P, Hughes J, Titshall LW, Van Antwerpen R. 2016. The effect of 72 years of sugarcane residues and fertilizer management on soil physico-chemical properties. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 225: 54–61

Podwojewski P, Grellier S, Mthimkhulu S, Titshall LW. 2014. How tree encroachment and soil properties affect soil aggregate stability in an eroded grassland in South Africa. Soil Science Society of America Journal 78: 1753-1764

Bame IB, Hughes JC, Titshall LW and Buckley, CA. 2014. The effect of irrigation with anaerobic baffled reactor effluent on nutrient availability, soil properties and maize growth. Agricultural Water Management. 134: 50–59

Titshall LW, Rietz DN and Dovey SB. 2013. Management impacts on the long-term soil productivity of southern African commercial forestry plantations. Southern Forests, 75(4): 169-183

Bame IB, Hughes JC, Titshall LW and Buckley, CA. 2013. Leachate characteristics as influenced by anaerobic baffled reactor effluent application on three soils: a soil column study. Chemosphere, 93: 2171-2179.

Norris M and Titshall LW. 2012. The distribution of inherent phosphorus in fifteen water treatment residues from South Africa. Water SA, 38:716-720.

Taylor TS, Titshall LW, Hughes JC and Thibaud GR. 2012. Effect of tillage systems and nitrogen application rates on selected physical and biological properties of a clay loam soil in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. South African Journal of Plant and Soil, 29: 47-52.

Dlamini, P, Orchard, C, Jewitt, G, Lorentz, S, Titshall, LW, Chaplot, V. 2011. Controlling factors of sheet erosion under degraded grasslands in the sloping lands of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Agricultural Water Management, 98:1711-1718.



Titshall LW. 2015. Residual effects of long-term fertiliser application on soil chemical properties. ICFR Technical Note 06/2015. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2014. Sixth rotation growth results from Acacia mearnsii fertiliser trial provide insight into the residual effects of fertiliser application. ICFR Technical Note 03/2014. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2014. Growth responses to late-rotation fertilisation of pine sawtimber stands: 2.5 year results. ICFR Bulletin Series 07/2014. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2013. Mid-rotation fertilisation of eucalypt pulpwood plantations: Final results. ICFR Bulletin Series 09/2013. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2013. Post-thinning fertilisation of three Eucalyptus grandis sawtimber stands; Tzaneen: 43 month growth responses and an economic feasibility analysis. ICFR Bulletin Series 06/2013. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2012. The development of a soil and plant reference and archive collection at the ICFR. ICFR Bulletin Series 05/2012. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW. 2012. Evidence of residual phosphorus after mid-rotation fertilisation in three eucalyptus pulpwood stands. ICFR Technical note 03/2012. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

Titshall LW, Rietz DN and Dovey, SB. 2012. A general review of site and management factors affecting long-term site productivity of commercial forestry plantations. ICFR Bulletin Series 07/2012. Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, PMB, SA.

  • BSc: Grassland Science and Zoology (Univ. of Natal, 1998)
  • BSc Honours: Grassland science (Univ. of Natal, 1999)
  • MSc: Environmental Science (Univ. of Natal, 2003)
  • PhD: Soil Science (Univ. of KwaZulu-Natal, 2008)



Understanding and managing soils in the SA sugar industry

Sugarcane production imposes unique stresses on the soil. Monocropping and the removal of large amounts of crop material from the land at harvest, often after burning away crop residues, impact on soil health in various ways. Fortunately, there are several practices that farmers can implement to optimise both soil health and productivity. 

This book has been written to serve as a reference guide for students and farmers. It starts by providing a basic understanding of the physical, chemical and biological properties of soils, and then goes on to describe some of the important practices which serve to conserve soil health and thereby promote sustainable agriculture.

View Book

Identification and management of the soils of the SA sugar industry

Knowing the soils that occur on a sugarcane farm and understanding how and why they differ will assist growers in deciding how to manage the crop more effectively under different soil bioclimatic conditions and help to increase farm productivity and profitability in harmony with environmental issues. Cane grows well on good soils with relatively little management, but greater knowledge is required of the many poor soils in the sugar industry if they are to be conserved and managed in the best way possible. 

This book is designed to provide a practical guide on how to identify, name and manage the more common soils that occur in the industry. Several new soil forms have been identified and where appropriate soil families have been introduced into the system in line withthe publication, Soil Classification – A Taxonomic System for South Africa (published by the Institute for Soil, Climate and Water (formerly Soils and Irrigation Research Institute), 1991).

View Book

Green manuring

Green manuring involves the use of selected crops to improve soil health. In the sugar industry, this practice is particularly important to break the sugarcane monoculture and improve overall soil health. There are also benefits from a decrease in diseases and pests that are hosted within the soil from one cane crop to the next.

View Book


Understanding the FAS Leaf Analysis Report

The SASRI Fertiliser Advisory Service (FAS) conducts routine leaf analysis of sugarcane samples with guidance given on whether the test values are within a predetermined sufficiency range. This guide highlights key features when reading and interpreting this report.

View Report Guide

Understanding the FAS Salinity and Sodicity Analysis Report

Soil salinity and sodicity are crop limiting conditions associated with the excess build-up of free salts (salinity) or excess sodium (sodicity). The FAS Agricultural Laboratory at SASRI undertakes routine soil salinity and sodicity analysis to identify the extent of the salinity or sodicity problem, while providing gypsum recommendations in the case of sodicity problems. This guide provides assistance on interpreting the salinity and sodicity report.

View Report Guide

Understanding the FAS Top and Subsoil Fertility Analysis Report

The top and subsoil fertility reports produced by the FAS Agricultural Laboratory contain a considerable amount of information. For those not familiar with these reports, this can be overwhelming and confusing. This guide aims to highlight pertinent aspects in the reports and provides guidance on how to use the information to improve nutrient management and soil health.

View Report Guide

Understanding the FAS Water Quality Analysis Report

Irrigation water quality must be monitored to ensure suitability of the water for irrigation for different soil properties. Excess salt can lead to serious soil and crop health problems and is costly to remedy. The FAS Agricultural Laboratory undertakes routine irrigation water quality analysis focusing on determination of excess salt and the suitability of the water source for irrigation. In addition, some growers may use this water for agrochemical mixing. Using good quality water is important to optimise the efficacy of chemicals. This booklet provides guidance on interpreting the water quality report for irrigation purposes and interpreting the results for use in agrochemical mixing applications.

View Report Guide


A basic guide describing what fertilisers are, the need for fertilisers, types of fertilisers, procedure for submitting soil samples, application procedures and other general fertiliser tips.

View Guide

Fertilisers (isiZulu)

A basic guide describing what fertilisers are, the need for fertilisers, types of fertilisers, procedure for submitting soil samples, application procedures and other general fertiliser tips.

View Guide

How to use a Beta Sampler

Step-by-step guide for using a Beta Sampler to take soil samples.

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Micronutrient deficiency symptoms in sugarcane

Leaf deficiency symptoms for Iron, Copper, Zinc, Maganese, Boron and Molybdenum

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Nutrient deficiency symptoms in sugarcane

Describes deficiency symptoms for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulphur, Calcium and Magnesium.

View Guide

Soil testing

Field procedures for taking samples for soil testing

View Guide

Top dressing (isiZulu)

The importance of fertiliser application (IsiZulu)

Fertiliser Advisory Service

Leaf Sampling

Soil Sampling

Leaf Sampling (isiZulu)

Soil Sampling (isiZulu)

Tin and string fertiliser application

Knapsack fertiliser application


Helping you calculate fertiliser distances at the touch of a button!

A ‘Fertiliser distance’ is the distance that a given amount of fertiliser must cover in order to achieve the recommended rate per hectare. Whether you use the tin-and-string method, or wish to calibrate the flow-rate of a knapsack fertiliser applicator or some other application equipment, FertiCalc will simplify the process.

The app is available for free download from the Google Play and iPhone App stores.

MS Excel version also available.


FAS Agricultural Laboratory

Analytical packages offered for soil, leaf, fertiliser, compost and irrigation water. Recommendations provided for sugarcane and selected crops for local and SADC clients.

Extension and Biosecurity Service

SASRI Extension Specialists located throughout the South African sugar industry are available to offer advice and support on crop nutrition and all other aspects of sugarcane farming.

Special Advisory Requests

Service to investigate new products on behalf of commercial companies to facilitate registration. Investigations can include testing of herbicides, fungicides, ripeners, fertilisers and pesticides.

Research in Crop Nutrition focuses on the development of knowledge, technologies, and resources to further enhance the accuracy of fertiliser recommendations to the grower community. Visit CROP PERFORMANCE & MANAGEMENT for more info.

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