Australian and Queensland Government Programmes

New programme to improve nitrogen use efficiency

The Reef Trust Tender – Wet Tropics is a new initiative to improve nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) on cane farms in the Wet Tropics region. Through the Programme, cane farmers have applied for funds to improve their NUE through a market-based competitive tender. Tenders are assessed based on value for money in improving NUE on farm.

The four year Programme is funded by the Australian Government as a component of Reef Trust and is delivered in partnership with Terrain NRM. It aims to address nitrogen discharge from the Wet Tropics, one of the biggest known risks to the Great Barrier Reef. A major source of nitrogen discharge to Reef waters has been linked to fertiliser use in the Wet Tropics’ sugar cane industry.

This Programme offered an innovative way to encourage cane farmers to put a price on the cost of improving NUE. Farmers designed their own projects and those awarded a contract will receive an up-front payment with annual payments over three years if they meet their proposed NUE improvements and implement a range of best management practices.

Terrain’s Reef Team Leader, Deb Bass said, “Those who applied could see an opportunity to introduce a new farming system which they have been thinking about for some time”

Terrain has been responsible for ensuring farmers across the region heard about the opportunity and were equipped with the information they needed to make a decision on whether to submit an application.

“We have been working closely with the Department of the Environment to provide information and tools to point farmers in the right direction in order to develop an informed tender for their proposed project,” said Deb.

Terrain facilitated five workshops across the region in December to provide information about the Programme. Over 200 expressions of interest were received from cane farmers proving initial interest in the Programme was high.

“We hope to communicate the outcomes of the tender assessments in the coming weeks, so those interested are encouraged to keep an eye on our website or follow us on Facebook or Twitter where updates and announcements will be made in due course.” For information, go to Terrain’s website or visit http://www.environment.gov.au/reef-trust-tender.

System repair funding increases irrigation capacity for Mackay farmer

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Rehabilitation works at Shane Cowley’s property, Bakers Creek.

Thanks to funding available under the Reef Programme, Shane Cowley, sugarcane grower from Bakers Creek, has been able to increase on-farm water supply available for cane farm irrigation while also improving water quality in his catchment.

With assistance from the Australian Government Reef Systems Repair on-ground grants, Shane has installed a sediment detention basin and second flush chamber directly upstream from the wetland on his property.

Shane was able to build a 1 ML first flush detention basin that catches most of the sediment in the runoff water entering his farm.

A second flush chamber was also created, consisting of a long deep marsh (sedges) zone for filtering nutrients and fine sediment from the water. The second flush chamber features a 3 ML waterhole at its end to supply irrigation water.

The water flows over a rock weir at the end of the waterhole into Shane’s wetland, ensuring cleaner re-oxygenated water entering the wetland.

The project has been successful, and is set to deliver both environmental and production benefits.

“This extra water means that I can irrigate those nearby cane blocks several more times each year and significantly increase their production, as well as improving the water quality for my wetland and the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon,” Shane said.

A rock ramp fishway was incorporated at the exit of the wetland, enabling both scour protection and fish connectivity with downstream habitats. Shane is also a keen fisherman and hopes the fishway will help attract barramundi into the wetland.

System Repair project funding is supporting on-farm projects for water reuse structures in priority sub-catchments of the Pioneer River Main Channel, Sandy and Bakers Creek.

Reef Catchments worked together with Shane on this project to provide help with the system design and funding for up to 50 percent of the costs. The project was recently completed with the additional structures now filling from recent rainfall events. The wetland has also been revegetated with native plants to restore habitat and connectivity. – Story courtesy of Reef Catchments.

Capella graziers among first in line as accredited producers

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The Sullivan family of Capella, north of Emerald.

With a long-held commitment to ongoing education and learning, Capella graziers Dan and Helen Sullivan of Capella have recently cemented their position as leaders in their field, receiving recognition as one of the first grazing businesses in the State to complete the Grazing BMP audit process.

With their sons Kurt and Glen, Dan and Helen run a significant grazing enterprise operation in the Capella/Tieri district on the Central Highlands including the 10,100 hectare “Talagai”, 8000ha “Old Malvern”, 2000ha “Humberstone”, 485ha “Cork” and 3000ha of lease country.

“We have always felt as a business that it’s very important to undertake courses each year, to participate, learn new things and be prepared for change,” Mrs Sullivan said.

Undertaking the five Grazing BMP modules – Soil Health, Animal Health and Welfare, Grazing Management, People and Business and Animal Production – and the certification and audit process as a group, the Sullivan’s approached the process as a good thing for their business, their region and their industry.

“We saw the Grazing BMP modules as an important process for our business to see where we were at, but also a good thing for the industry to demonstrate that we are being proactive in land management and we are being proactive in environmental management,” she said.

Undertaken 12 months after completing the modules, the Grazing BMP audit involved a desktop review of the Sullivan’s self-assessment evidence meeting 55 industry standards and a half-day on-farm audit of their grazing enterprises operations and procedures.

Fitzroy Basin Association Inc. Grazing BMP Project Manager Peter Long said the Sullivan’s were one of only eleven grazing families now holding ‘Accredited Producer’ status in the industry.

“One of the key drivers of Grazing BMP is the fact that if there is a high adoption of Grazing BMP programs and practices in our industry, there will be less need for government regulation,” Mr Long said.

As proactive land managers, the Sullivan’s completed an erosion control project through the Australian Government’s Reef Programme in 2013 and are set to embark on a new riparian fencing project to improve ground cover and pasture composition, reduce erosion and improve water quality in late 2014.

“We commend the Sullivan family for their proactive and forward-thinking approach to working in the grazing industry today and encourage other producers to follow their lead,” Mr Long said.

All systems go for the reef

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Damage caused by feral pigs in the Burrum catchment.

It is not widely understood that one of the ways to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef is to work with landholders to control feral pigs, weeds (e.g. invasive vines and lantana) and to restore, protect and maintain riparian vegetation which adds to improving the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon.

Over the next three years, through the Australian Government’s Reef Systems Repair Programme, the Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG) will make $1.5M available to assist local land managers to undertake on-ground works to assist in the maintenance of riparian vegetation and natural wetlands.

Funding will target waterways and wetlands within prioritised areas of the Baffle Basin, the Burrum River Catchment and the Tinana Creek Sub-catchment in a whole of landscape system approach.

Projects and activities eligible for funding will include:

  • Planting native vegetation on cleared or cropped land along waterways or wetlands to reconnect aquatic habitat;
  • Bank stabilisation along riparian corridors to address slumping and erosion;
  • Enhancing existing native vegetation to increase biodiversity benefits and filtering of sediment loads;
  • Erection of fences to assist grazing management and establishment of off-stream watering points;
  • Control of feral pigs along waterways to reduce sediment loads and stabilise riparian zones;
  • Control the spread of target weeds within wetlands and riparian zones;
  • Implementation of fire management practices to address loss of critical sediment-filtering vegetation;
  • Technical and educational field days and workshops addressing landscape management issues impacting upon water quality entering the GBR lagoon will be open to all members of the community.

BMRG are currently calling for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from land managers to nominate their projects.

“Land managers in high priority areas, with medium to large scale projects are encouraged to apply as sediment reaching the reef comes from diffuse sources across large tracts of our landscape,” said Penny Hall, Chief Executive Officer, BMRG.

“This is a great opportunity for land managers to participate, improving their farm’s sustainability and protecting the future of the Great Barrier Reef at the same time,” she added.

For further information on this funding please contact Caroline Haskard (Baffle) or Stacey Hodge (Burrum and Tinana) on 07 4181 2999 or to download the EOI and to view maps of prioritised areas please go to http://www.bmrg.org.au/about/funding-opportunities/.

Best practice cane farming in the Herbert

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Joe Grottelli.

One Queensland family has been developing a new farm with best management practices by converting an area of abandoned teak plantations to sugarcane and they’ve accessed the Australian Government Reef Programme and contributed 50% towards the grant to help develop an efficient, sustainable approach right across their Herbert River farm.

By the time the year is out, the Grottelli family will have clocked thousands of hours on machinery and have a total of 405 hectares to the northeast of Ingham growing sugarcane.

The home farm for Joseph and Gerrard Grottelli and their father Enzo is at Hawkins Creek on the banks of the Herbert River but it’s further upstream at Abergowrie that their big expansion has taken place.

The family has bought more than 202 hectares of failed forestry land, and is renovating it and planting it back to sugarcane to supply to the Macknade and Victoria mills. The rehabilitated cane farms look nothing like they did before the Managed Investment Scheme companies bought them up and planted the area under teak saplings.

Each step in the process has been carefully planned, computer-designed and undertaken using best management practice principles.

In the Abergowrie area, land which had been owned by the MIS firm Great Southern was put up for tender after the company folded. The timing was right for the Grottelli brothers. While both had careers away from their family farm, helping their father was taking up more of their time.

“I was fulltime at Honeycombes working on harvesters and Gerrard was in Townsville working for QBuild as a refrigeration mechanic but we were coming back on the weekends to work on the farm with Dad,” Joe explains.

“Dad was getting older, he’s now in his 80s, so we had to make a decision about what we were going to do because we couldn’t keep going like that.”

The first tree land tender came up at the same time as a harvesting contract became available.

“The plan was that there’d be a couple of forms of income and we could do our own harvesting. Between ourselves and our accountant we decided to try it and we got the first tender around April 2012,” Joe says.

“The harvesting contract came through at about the same time so it was a big step for us,” agrees Gerrard who then moved back from Townsville

Joe says none of the teak plantations were in good condition when the family took over and 89 hectares of it had no surviving trees at all.

“It was because of the way they’d planted the trees and the time they planted them was wrong for the conditions. Some went underwater because the drainage wasn’t right. They just left them alone so it was bound to fail,” he explains.

“Other areas had trees up to three metres high but they were dead or dying, not cared for. The grass and weeds were up to three metres high in between the trees and it was full of pigs and rats.

“Some of it we could just mow down and the smaller bits will just break down as organic matter in the soil, which is a good thing. Where they were bigger we pushed them over with the dozer and stacked them up.”

The family purchased a bulldozer when they realised just how much work was involved in re-establishing the cane paddocks.

The dollars really start to stack up when embarking on such ambitious large-scale farm development work, so to help them bring as much new technology on line as quickly as possible, the brothers applied for funding under the Australian Government Reef Programme (formerly known as Reef Rescue).

After clearing the land and discing the residue into the soil, Herbert Productivity Services Limited surveyed the property using a GPS which talks to a local base station at Abergowrie. A satellite is then able to establish the land height of the entire block, correct to around five centimetres. The results were used to help computer-design the new cane areas to maximise drill length and optimise drainage. The Grottellis brought in contractors in to do the laser levelling and put in best- practice drainage lines to reduce potential impacts of farm run-off.

“Nowadays you can’t just go and plant cane. You have to do the right design work and surveying and get all of that right first. That’s a key factor; you can’t just plant how it was done 100 years ago. There was probably a thousand tiny cane paddocks in there originally, draining in a way that kept the water in the farm with a swampy area in the middle, and the tree guys didn’t change anything. They just put the trees in and they went underwater,” Joe says.

“Now we’ve got kilometre-long drills, good ground and it’s all going to drain perfectly,” he says.

The Grottelli brothers have just finished a Spring plant in their newly prepared ground.

Across all of the areas, they are growing Q208, Q239, Q228 and Q200 utilising clean seed cane. When everything is in full production, they aim to be cutting close to 30,000 tonnes of cane each year.

Soil health is very important to the Grottellis who have spent a lot of money and time getting this key aspect right for their farm. Prior to ripping and hoeing, they had their local productivity board soil sample different blocks to see what nutrients they needed to apply.

“This was especially crucial on these new blocks as we had no information at all on their current nutrient levels, and we needed to get the liming requirements established and identify exactly how much fertiliser we needed to maximise productivity and profitability for these new tracts of land,” Joe explains.

Controlling cane grubs is front of mind for growers in the Herbert River, and Joe and Gerard point out a Confidor applicator fitted to a stool-splitter fertiliser box, also partly funded by the Australian Government Reef Programme.

“This is a brilliant investment for our farm, which gives us the ability to do a one-pass Confidor and fertiliser application – not only saving us time, but getting the fertiliser and chemical application under the ground, right to where it’s needed,” Joe says.

“We went on and applied for a shielded sprayer through the Reef Programme. This has been another great investment for the farm because we can now target application of Roundup as a knockdown in between the rows, without any damage to the cane. This has really reduced our reliance on residuals.”

GPS has been fitted to their zonal hoe and tractors, with Joe saying it’s not just helpful for controlled traffic but it’s also great for record keeping – and their father who is aged in his 80s loves it for tractor work.

“We’ve got it set up to record all the aspects of work we are doing – whether we are fertilising, spraying, or hoeing. Whatever we are doing is being recorded and mapped,” Joe says.

“We can then go and pull that information anytime and know exactly what we’ve done on what dates.”

“I can’t wait until next year,” he admits looking across the newly prepared ground. “When it’s a standard, normal planting year with no clearing of trees or mucking around – it’ll just be straightforward.”

Water quality made clearer

Issues affecting water quality in the region and the health of our catchments and the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) are under the spotlight both in the news and in our work.

Terrain NRM is collaborating with scientists and partners to develop a whole of Wet Tropics Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) covering nine major catchments directly flowing to the GBR.  The development of the WQIP is supported by the Australian Government Reef Programme.

The WQIP will identify the key issues affecting water quality in the region along with the impacts of these issues on our natural and economic values, people and places (freshwater, coastal and marine landscapes) and recommend actions to improve the outcomes.

WQIP Coordinator Jane Waterhouse said, “We will identify the most important issues and areas for management and the things that we need to do to support and improve the values of our region.”

The integrated WQIP is being developed in partnership with industry, government, scientists and community and will build on three existing catchment-scale WQIPs. It will provide a mechanism to incorporate aspirations from and inform the revision of community based catchment plans.

Jane said, “The WQIP takes a whole of system approach and addresses issues associated with pollutant load reductions for water quality outcomes in the GBR, and ‘system repair’ activities for improving or rehabilitating the ecological function and health of waterways in the region with high ecological value.”

A range of land uses in the region including agriculture and urban and their effect on water quality are being considered in the WQIP.

“Management goals and targets are being set that will deliver the outcomes we need for healthier water quality and the systems it supports in the region,” said Jane.

“The sorts of actions that will help us to achieve these goals include reducing the amount of fertiliser used in farming, stabilising erosion prone areas with vegetation, restoring waterway connections between the catchment and the reef, and managing stormwater runoff in urban areas.

“Many of these actions are already occurring through Reef Programme but we need to do even better at these practices as well as more of them.”

“The Plan will inform the prioritisation of management activities across a range of land uses throughout the region.”

To keep it relevant and usable, the WQIP will be reviewed every five years and also influences broader processes such as the Australian and Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013.

To learn more about the WQIP, take a look at the video on the Terrain website.

http://www.terrain.org.au/News-Resources/Latest-News/Water-quality-made-clearer

Reef Trust

A number of projects have commenced to implement the Reef Trust Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan. These include: a two year investigation into environmental crime to be conducted by the Australian Crime Commission, coordinated activities with GBRMPA to minimise the source and occurrence of marine debris over the next two years, and funding for the Cairns and Fitzroy Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to continue work to rehabilitate turtles over the next three years.

A $5million competitive tender opened on 10 October 2014 to provide financial incentives from the Reef Trust to sugar cane farmers in the Wet Tropics, to improve their nitrogen use efficiency and farm sustainability. Terrain NRM has successfully bid to act as the service provider for the project. Amongst other things, Terrain NRM will be holding workshops in early December 2014 to fully inform interested sugar cane farmers of the competitive tender’s objectives and requirements. Participation in the project is voluntary and sugar cane farmers who wish to participate in the competitive tender will have the flexibility to determine their own nitrogen use efficiency targets and cost-effective means of achieving those targets. Further information can be found at www.environment.gov.au/reef-trust-tender.

Reef 2050 long term sustainability plan

The Great Barrier Reef is not only one of the natural wonders of the world. As a UNESCO world heritage listed property it is a significant part of Australia’s national identity. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan will be the overarching framework for protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years. At the core of the Plan is an outcomes framework that will drive progress towards an overarching vision: “In 2050 the Great Barrier Reef continues to demonstrate the Outstanding Universal Value for which it was listed as a World Heritage Area and supports a wide range of sustainable economic, social, cultural and traditional activities.” The Plan identifies areas of action drawn from the comprehensive strategic assessment for the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent coastal zone and seeks to address gaps for future management of the Reef. It is a key component of the Australian Government’s response to requests from the World Heritage Committee.

The Plan has been developed by the Australian and Queensland governments in close consultation with a partnership group, with representatives from the resources, ports, tourism, fishing and agriculture sectors, as well as from Indigenous, research, and conservation groups, and local government. Public consultation on the Plan was undertaken for a six week period from 15 September till 27 October 2014. Comments received during this period will inform development of the final Plan, which will be submitted to the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum for endorsement in December 2014.  The Plan will be considered at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in mid- 2015.

For further information please visit the Department of the Environment’s website.

Reef gains in the Cassowary Valley

Story by Neroli Roocke

The Cassowary Valley is just as picturesque as it sounds. World Heritage-listed rainforest and lush cane sit side by side less than 3km to the coast, yet sheltered from it behind a mountain.

With nearby Mossman’s average annual rainfall just over 2000mm, it wasn’t surprising that it was drizzly the day we visited John and Richard Padovan. Continue Reading…

Ministerial Forum endorses Investment Strategy and MOU for Reef Trust

The Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum met in Brisbane on 12 June and endorsed a range of documents, including the Reef Trust Investment Strategy and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian and Queensland Governments for delivery of the Reef Trust. The Forum oversees implementation of the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement 2009 which provides a framework for the Australian and Queensland Governments to work together to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Continue Reading…