Blueprint for regional jobs

In the lead up to the State election, Queensland’s leading natural resource management body is urging all political parties to endorse its blueprint for securing rural and regional jobs and the viability of communities.

As the State’s rural industries continue to reel under the weight of soil loss, declining water quality, exotic pests and extreme weather events, rural jobs are evaporating and communities are withering.

Natural Resource Management Regions Queensland (NRMRQ) Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Drysdale, said the considerable expertise of NRMRQ and its 14 member groups has been brought to bear to develop a simple, five step plan to arrest the decline, strengthen rural and regional jobs, and ensure our communities are secure.

“Our member groups have more than 200 years of combined experience in what makes our regional communities tick; we know when we have a healthy, well managed landscape, we have productive rural industries that generate jobs and support our towns,” he said.

“Whoever forms government after the election, our Enhancing Living Landscapes, Delivering Local Livelihoods document is a blueprint for action.”

In relation to natural resource management in Queensland, Enhancing Living Landscapes, Delivering Local Livelihoods advocates:

  • a detailed set of guiding principles;
  • a five-year action plan targeting priority threats to viability and sustainability;
  • a State-wide NRM Council to ensure efforts are coordinated, effective, and focussed;
  • funding that recognises the ones who make a difference on the ground (landholders, communities, local NRM groups); and
  • increasing the ability of these key groups to deliver change.

When calling on the State’s political parties to endorse these five key components of the Enhancing Living Landscapes, Delivering Local Livelihoods document, Mr Drysdale said that while great progress has been made in managing Queensland’s natural assets, significant challenges remained and more work was needed.

“Every Queenslander and every community in Queensland benefits from a healthy landscape; there’s an economic and social dividend when we achieve an environmental dividend.”

Safety Net Unveiled

Around 70 Traditional Owners, cattle producers and other supporters gathered in Chillagoe recently for the launch of Living Landscapes; Local Livelihoods, a blueprint for Queensland’s future agricultural productivity and environmental health.

According to NRM Regions Queensland Chair, Stephen Robertson, Living Landscapes; Local Livelihoods is our road map to a future where healthy ecosystems and water resources are harnessed by engaged communities for sustainable production.

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Flood Recovery Support Offered

In the wake of ongoing floods down the east coast, rural and urban fringe landholders are being urged to make use of all the resources, support and expertise available to them in coping and recovering from Nature’s lashing.

Mr Andrew Drysdale, CEO of the Regional Groups Collective, said his member bodies stand prepared, after emergency services and local government, to assist rural landholders with flood recovery.

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Have your say on draft environmental values and water quality objectives for Queensland waters

You are invited to have your say on draft environmental values and water quality objectives for Queensland waters under the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy (EPP Water).

The Queensland Government has released draft consultation materials (reports, mapping) for Queensland Murray Darling-Bulloo and selected Great Barrier Reef waters. These and an online survey/submission form are available from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) website and via the Get Involved website.

The updated draft water quality objectives are derived from local water quality information where available.

Further information will be released when available for South–east Queensland and Wet Tropics waters, and groundwaters in Reef catchments.  Refer to the EHP website for more details.

All feedback will be considered in the finalisation process. Final materials may (pending Government approval) be included in schedule 1 of the EPP Water.

For more information on the draft consultation materials, view the Ministerial Release.

Submissions close 31 May 2017.

Report card shows continued progress in improving reef water quality

report-card-cover-finalThe latest Great Barrier Reef Report Card details some positive news but also identifies areas where more effort is needed.

Report Card 2015 assesses the reported results of Reef Water Quality Protection Plan actions up to June 2015.

It shows almost half the horticulture and grains land across the Great Barrier Reef catchments is already managed using best management practice systems, both scoring a C overall. However, more work is needed in the sugarcane and grazing industries which both scored a D reef-wide.

Modelling of pollutant load reductions resulted in a reduction in sediment of 12.3% and a reduction in pesticides of 33.7% which is more than halfway to the 2018 targets.

Inshore marine condition remained poor but coral and water quality improved from a D to C, in part due to some recent drier years. This gave the reef a chance to recover after a number of floods and tropical cyclones.

The marine results do not pick up the impacts from the worst coral bleaching event on record. More will be known about the results of this event in coming months and will be detailed in the next report card.

Everyone, not just farmers, need to play their part to improve water quality. Over the next 12 months, governments will be working with councils, industries and communities to identify actions they can take to improve water quality.

Report Card 2015 and more information about Reef Water Quality Protection Plan outcomes can be found on the website.

Greening Australia launch Reef Aid program

Jonathan Duddles of Greening Australia shows Sir Richard Branson a soil ...Greening Australia have just launched Reef Aid, a program of work to fund and deliver major restoration activity in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

Reef Aid will work with landholders to undertake gully and coastal wetland restoration projects to improve water quality and the health and resilience of the Reef.

Last month, they were joined by Virgin Australia founder, Sir Richard Branson to launch the program at an event in Sydney.

The public appeal aims to raise $10 million over the next three years for the first stage of the estimated $100 million major restoration program. The Australian Government Reef Trust will match private contributions dollar for dollar up to $2 million.

Reef Aid will be a collaborative program, with a number of research, funding and delivery partners to make this vision a reality, partners currently include:

  • The Australian Government’s Reef Trust
  • The Ian Potter Foundation
  • Virgin Australia
  • Conservation Volunteers Australia
  • Birdlife Australia
  • Wetland Care Australia
  • James Cook University
  • Griffith University

The Virgin partnership is just one example of how Greening Australia is leveraging co-investment in environmental programs. Reef Aid will raise funds from multiple sources to maximise the value of the investment and achieve the scale required to make a real impact on this important issue.

Reef Aid will also include a number of fantastic ways for the Australian community to get behind this vital work including a social media competition. Fish Up Your Face will ask participants to post a fish-face selfie to social media, make a donation for their chance to win a trip for a family of four to the Great Barrier Reef. The other big event expected to be launched this year will be a national Great Barrier Reef BBQ fundraiser.

Find out more about Reef Aid on the Greening Australia website and be sure to follow Greening Australia on social media and keep an eye out for your chance to Fish Up Your Face!

Watch the Reef Aid video on Youtube

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Fish ladder improves habitat connectivity

Full Fishway croppedAn innovative fishway has been installed at the Fitzroy River Barrage in Rockhampton. Part of a $2 million Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA) program funded through the Australian Government’s Reef Programme, the fishway has significantly increased fish numbers moving into freshwater habitats upstream of the Fitzroy River Barrage, the largest water storage for Rockhampton and the Capricorn coast.

While the barrage previously had an older fishway, it was too challenging for small fish to traverse, and some migratory fish species had great difficulty using it.

The Reef Programme contributed $500,000 toward the fishway design, construction and monitoring and the fishway was completed by FBA with Rockhampton Regional Council support.

Reducing barriers that prevent the movement of migratory fish is essential in promoting the sustainability of a productive and biodiverse lower Fitzroy system, as well as providing benefits to the Great Barrier Reef.

Cone fishway (part of new fish ladder)The new structure features innovative design techniques that reduces the velocity of water flowing from the upper level of the river to the below barrage level. It allows migratory fish as small as 9mm to move upstream through the fishway irrespective of tide levels, and provides resting and hiding places in deep pools essential for their survival.

The fishway design, project implementation and overall success has ticked a number of boxes by providing a highly cost effective and low maintenance solution that demonstrates how partnerships can contribute to a favorable outcome for all.

The new fishway was officially opened on 21 May 2016 to coincide with World Fish Migration Day. World Fish Migration Day is a global celebration highlighting the importance of habitat connectivity to migratory fish species.

Cultural site restored from dump

Cultural-site-restored-from-dump_largeBy Dianne Mauloni

Gunggandji Land and Sea Rangers are working with Traditional Owners to restore an area of cultural significance near Yarrabah, turning it from a dumping ground to a place they can use for gathering food, bush medicine, socialising and recreation.

Ranger Coordinator Jimmy Richards said, “Bundi Lake is a site of strong recreational and social significance to the Yarrabah people. The seasonal wetland site has been degraded over many years as a result of being used as an impromptu dumping site for old disused vehicles.”

Thanks to Terrain NRM’s Traditional Owner Water Quality Grants, the Gunggandji ranger team have had the assistance they needed to restore the area. Over the past 12 months, they have been busy cleaning up the site with over 30 vehicle wrecks removed, weeds sprayed, a new fence has been erected and over 70 native trees have been replanted on the site.

Jimmy said, “It’s great to finally plant the native trees and our Rangers are really taking ownership of the site.  Our aim now is to continue planting out the remainder of the site with bush tucker trees and we will build a talking circle to give people a place to come together and start using this area again.”

The group was awarded a project grant of $32,600 through Terrain from the Queensland Government’s NRM Investment Program.

Terrain’s Steve Bailey said, “Over $250K has been distributed to Traditional Owner groups across the Wet Tropics region to undergo on-ground projects that improve water quality flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. The area is adjacent to Kappa Creek which runs directly into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, therefore it was identified as a priority area for a project to roll out. Not only does cleaning up the site contribute to improved water quality, it has enabled the Yarrabah people to start using and value the area again.”

Since the Ranger team started working on the site in 2015, they now also have two additional teams to assist from the QITE community jobs program.

Large scale soil restoration with tea brew


By Dianne Mauloni

Michael Ottone and his brother Peter have been undergoing revolutionary changes on their pineapple, watermelon and cane crops.

They are using local soil flora to make a special home-brew compost tea and drastically reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and fungicides.

The brothers are partners with their parents on the Farm situated 25kms from Tully and were faced with the challenge of phytophthora, a ‘water mold’ which can thrive in a climate such as the Wet Tropics. It has the potential to be extremely destructive to crops causing ‘root rot’, and pineapples are particularly susceptible.

Michael and Peter have found a way of managing the pathogen in their pineapple and cane crops, whilst keeping their ‘organic’ status.

“We attended some training funded by Terrain NRM on how to make our own biological and mineral inputs and apply them to our farm,” said Michael.

“After having great success with using our brew on pineapples, we trialled our tea on a small area of cane with mixed soils. We then gained the confidence to apply it across more than 100ha of cane with great success.”

Trichoderma is a naturally occurring fungus in the soil which is being injected into the Ottone’s farm through the tea brew. Michael and Peter agree that their compost tea is a cheap way of delivering Trichoderma to the soil whilst increasing bacteria and fungal mass and diversity around the plant roots.

The brew is made with a range of mineral inputs such as molasses and yeast, along with locally-occurring native micro-organisms that enhance natural competitiveness in the soil and make it difficult for phytophthora to survive.

Michael said, “The compost and fungi from the farm has been there for thousands of years and is acclimatised to the area. By incorporating this in the brew, native microbes are put back into the soil which break down trash and is low cost. The brew also improves the water holding capability of the soil by adding organic matter.”

It is anticipated that 33kg/ha of nitrogen reduction will be achieved as a result of the compost tea application with 33kg/ha of biological nitrogen replacement.

Terrain’s CEO Carole Sweatman said, “The Ottone brothers are a fantastic example of farmers thinking outside the square to make ends meet whilst fostering a healthy environment. These guys are taking on a brave and unique approach to farming, which considers biological science and encourages natural processes to maintain the health of their soil, plants and waterways.

“Fewer chemical inputs benefit our waterways and reef, which is what we are encouraging farmers to consider through a range of programs including the Australian government’s Reef Programme.”

Michael said, “We love fishing, we want the water quality running off the farm to be healthy. We want to look after it.”

Co-operative farming builds a better business case

Harvesting at Sundown 9CANEGROWERS

In an industry where keeping up with costly new technology helps to achieve best management practice on-farm, a group of Innisfail growers has joined forces to meet the challenge head-on.

With tight margins and the cost of replacing capital equipment climbing, the example being set by Sundown Harvesting shows that small cane growing enterprises can survive and thrive if farmers take a co-operative approach to business.

Established in 1970 as a partnership between four farming families with a specific interest in harvesting, the business has grown to include planting and fertilising equipment as the growers work to boost productivity and improve their environmental stewardship.

The group cuts across 750 hectares annually, equating to around 70,000 tonnes of cane.

Half of this belongs to the partners and the other half belongs to nine other growers in the immediate area.

Sundown Harvesting partner Sam Spina, who brings to the group a wealth of experience in rural banking, is a big believer in the co-operative business model.

“We’ve tried to establish ourselves as a group that’s a little bit progressive,” Sam said. “We try and have new machinery, we finance new machinery and make repayments rather than trying to have a lot of repairs and maintenance every year.”

And he says none of the farmers would’ve been able to achieve what they are doing now on their own.

Harvesting at Sundown 5“We have found as a partnership we’ve been able to finance machinery at a higher level – more sophisticated machinery, good haul-out equipment, good planting equipment as well as good fertilising equipment,” he says.

In straight-forward economic terms, it’s about achieving economies of scale, getting maximum value per unit cost from capital equipment.

It’s a business model Sam believes is suited to smaller growers in the Innisfail area.

“Probably 75% of growers that supply South Johnstone mill are under that 5,000 tonne or the hundred-acre mark,” Sam says. “As individuals, those growers would not be able to invest in the machinery that we invest in.

“Everybody knows a new full track harvester costs close to $600,000, GPS mapping and auto-steer on that harvester, almost $35,000.

“It’s the same sort of money involved in installing the GPS mapping and auto-steer technology in the planting tractor and that’s a lot of money for a grower that produces 5,000 tonne of cane.”

The co-operative approach also assisted with the business case in seeking funding assistance for equipment through the Australian Government Reef Programme, formerly known as Reef Rescue.

Assistance from the program has been put towards a GPS and auto-steer system on the planter, the GPS and auto-steer systems on a new harvester and a variable rate control system to be attached to the four tonne, triple row, stool splitting fertiliser box.

Working in tandem with GPS, the variable speed control system will help the growers to get into the more technical elements of crop mapping and adjusting the rate of fertiliser being applied on-the-move.

Given that soil types can vary greatly, even within individual rows, the system will mean nutrients can be applied more strategically and more frugally. A good outcome for the Great Barrier Reef and for the fertiliser bill!

Most importantly, it won’t be just one farmer using the fertiliser box. The variable rate system is a shared resource among all of the partners in Sundown Harvesting.

“When we lodge our applications for the Reef Programme funding it’s always better that those applications benefit a large amount of hectares,” Sam said.

“I guess I can understand that not only government, but all of us, want to be able to get the best bang for our buck and the best bang for our buck comes from being able to spend that sort of money and have a lot of hectares utilise that technology.”