Sugar high is sweet success for the reef

IMAGE1_Joe Muscat Mackay cane farmerMACKAY //

Following a review of projects delivered by Reef Catchments under the Australian Government’s Reef Programme, some exciting figures have emerged.

Approximately $1.1 million of Federal Government funding has been invested in farm plans which focus on improvements and practice change for nutrients, pesticides and irrigation efficiency, involving 305 individual growers since 2013.

Manager Katrina Dent is proud of the program achievements, “To date Reef Catchments has outlaid an estimated $2 million in small ($300 per grower) and major (up to $90,000 for certain projects) grants, with almost $500,000.00 still to be paid.

“The farm plans have been developed and reviewed over two and three years, being refined to allow growers to adopt best practice for water quality improvement, whilst aiming to increase productivity,” she said.

Growers have matched this funding dollar for dollar, to illustrate their commitment to best management practice.

Mackay grower Joe Muscat has been keen to be involved since funding first became available in 2007.

“Our first project through the early phase of the program, offered the opportunity to improve our farming system and implement best practice.

“Without this investment our transition into A class practice would have been slowed. It’s allowed us to step into site specific crop management with variable rate ameliorants and irrigation being applied,” Joe said.

Joe has also been able to achieve the many fundamentals of a controlled traffic farming system, modifying nutrient, chemical and planting equipment to meet the system requirements.

“Currently we’re installing wetlands which will allow for improved water quality from our farm into the catchments.

“Identified initiatives must continue to be supported strongly to achieve improvements that deliver real value for farming, the community and the environment,” he said.

Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce delivers its final report

gbrwst-final-report-coverThe Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce has handed down its final report on how to deliver clean water for a healthy Great Barrier Reef, with 10 key recommendations.

The report provides advice on the best approach to meeting the Queensland Government’s ambitious reef water quality targets (to reduce nitrogen run-off by up to 80 per cent and sediment run-off by up to 50 per cent) and the priority areas for investing an additional $90 million.

Dr Geoff Garrett AO, Taskforce Chair and Queensland Chief Scientist, said there was no one tool or silver bullet to save the Great Barrier Reef.

“A mix of tools are required including incentives, regulation and innovation.

“While we acknowledge the efforts to date, it is abundantly clear that more widespread and rapid action is required.

“Everyone including farmers, graziers, developers, the resources sector, community members, traditional owners and tourism operators must be part of the solution.

The final report makes 10 recommendations which focus on enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension and innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations.

The Queensland Government will consider the Taskforce’s recommendations in full and will begin to implement some recommendations immediately.

The final report is available on the Great Barrier Reef Living wonder website –

Reef gets $45 MILLION boost through QFF led Reef Alliance Project

Reef shareable 1The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) in partnership with members of the Reef Alliance to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The project will be funded through the Australian Government’s $140 million Reef Trust which focuses on improving water quality, and protecting coastal habitats and the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

The project is designed to improve land management practices which will help protect the Great Barrier Reef by enabling farmers to continue improving and adopting Best Management Practices (BMP) that will minimize losses of soil, fertiliser and pesticides from their farms and improve the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.

Links between industry and NRM groups along the Reef will be established to deliver an integrated ‘whole of reef’ program of training, extension and on-ground support to agricultural land managers and the broader reef community.

QFF are committed to this holistic approach as it will eliminate duplication, boost sharing and provide consistent project support systems, maximising Reef water quality outcomes while ensuring profitable productive agricultural landscapes.

QFF look forward to working constructively with members of the Reef Alliance and the local community to deliver outcomes to improve water quality in the Reef.

Landholders along the Reef have a very real and local stake in ensuring the Reef is protected for future generations and this project is proof of the continued commitment of Queensland’s agriculture industry.

Members of the Reef Alliance bid (for the purposes of this funding) include:

  • AgForce
  • Australian Banana Growers’ Council
  • Burnett Mary Regional Group
  • Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd
  • Fitzroy Basin Association
  • Growcom
  • NQ Dry Tropics Ltd
  • Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation
  • Queensland Farmers’ Federation
  • Regional Groups Collective
  • Terrain NRM
  • WWF – Australia

Fitzroy Basin Water Quality Improvement Plan open for public comment


Through funding from the Australian Government’s Reef Programme, Fitzroy Basin Association has coordinated the development of a Regional Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP 2015) that will set new targets and objectives for regional water quality to direct future investment to ensure healthy waterways, wetlands and a thriving Reef.

WQIP 2015 includes new science and current best management practice knowledge. It will incorporate coastal management planning as well as water sensitive urban design and port management strategies.

Community members, stakeholders, governments, and industry groups are encouraged to provide comments and feedback on the draft WQIP 2015.

WQIP 2015 is open for public comment until the end of March 2016. Feedback can be provided either through the FBA  QWIP 2015 website, or by emailing Fitzroy Basin Association at

Reef Trust Innovative Financial Mechanisms Panel

gbr-banner-reef-trustWith its focus on diversifying the funding sources for protecting the Great Barrier Reef, the Reef Trust is exploring the new and exciting space of conservation financing, which provides the chance to work outside traditional disbursement methods, such as grants. Following work with experts from the philanthropic and investment sectors the Reef Trust Innovative Financial Mechanisms Panel has been established. The Panel provides a forum for experts from leading financial and philanthropic organisations to discuss a range of conservation financing mechanisms which could be piloted for the Great Barrier Reef. These could include mechanisms such as green bonds, impact investment and private equity investments. The Panel is chaired by the Department of the Environment and includes representatives from ANZ along with Credit Suisse, Zurich, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Philanthropy Australia and the Environmental Grant Makers Network.

The Reef Trust welcomes ideas and suggestions for Reef conservation projects that can be offered as an investment opportunity to financial markets and other stakeholders. If you have a project suggestion, please email:

Targeting nutrient and herbicide applications in red soil country

Innisfail Joe Zappala IMG_7787Farming sugarcane in the lush catchment of the Johnstone River system is not without its challenges. It is one of Queensland’s wettest growing districts and features a rich red soil which, when it is wet, becomes very sticky.

Innisfail district grower Joe Zappala is facing up to the challenges of his location with the help of specially designed farm machinery that keeps pace with environmental best practice in applying sub-surface nutrients to his crop while coping with the sticky soil.

“This red soil sticks very well to the coulters and also because it sticks and it’s not very abrasive, it won’t cut the trash,” Joe explains. “When it doesn’t cut the trash it builds up and binds – it jams!”

But with modifications to the tynes and bigger coulters, developed in conjunction with the equipment’s manufacturer, Joe has been able to get his fertiliser into the soil, under the trash blanket.

The modified fertiliser box and stool splitter is an example of how the Australian Government Reef Programme (formerly known as Reef Rescue) is working with farmers in Queensland’s Wet Tropics to limit the likelihood that nutrient left on top of the soil will wash away into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The implement is providing productivity gains on top of the environmental benefits.

As well as now that environmental benefit, the implement has given Joe some productivity gains too.

“I’ve gone from two row application to three row application and also with this box I can vary the row spacing from five foot (152cm) out to five foot ten (177cm) and I could put it either beside the stool or split the stool,” he says.

Innisfail Zappala IMG_7782He chooses to split his stools as he takes the opportunity to apply a cane grub control agent in the same pass.

Joe is also playing a role in minimising the impacts of farming on the Great Barrier Reef with his herbicide management too, applying successfully to the Australian Government Reef Programme to co-fund a variable rate spray controller with the aim of cutting down on his herbicide usage.

The system has been installed on a spray unit, modified to be a high rise eight years ago, which has a direct result of improved accuracy in spray rates and efficiency of application.

It’s a win both for the environment and productivity. That also helps him in his hillier country.

“We had just standard controllers that were not very accurate,” Joe says. “So what we’ve done is mount a wheel sensor on the back of the wheel so you’ve got accuracy with your ground speed. Once you’ve got accuracy with your ground speed you start getting accuracy with your application rates.”

When the machine accelerates a bit going downhill, the application rate picks up and when it climbs a hill slowly with a full tank, the application rate slows right down.

Innisfail cane grower Joe Zappala and his stool splitter and fertiliser box modified to cope with his sticky red soil“The accuracy in application is what I was really looking for,” Joe says. “You want to get even application of herbicides.”

The flow control system and tank are coupled with an Irvin Farm spray rig that has been engineered specifically to meet the highest environmental standards.

The ratoon tracking head travels at ground level and the spray bar is constructed with multiple low-drift nozzles to ensure herbicide only goes where it’s needed.

“What we have is what Irvin calls the octopus legs. We have six nozzles on each spray bar – I use ADI low drift nozzles,” he says. “With the variable rate controller it gives me good rate of application, accuracy, run lower pressures so I get less drift.”

Joe has another project in the planning stage, for a dual herbicide sprayer.

His story has been featured as an episode in the latest CANEGROWERS Virtual Bus Tour series – available to view on YouTube by following this link

Have your say on Taskforce Interim Report

Executive summaryThe Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce recently sought feedback on its Interim Report which sets out initial recommendations to the Queensland Government on how to deliver substantial reef water quality improvements. The Taskforce has been established to provide the Queensland Government with advice on how it can meet its ambitious water quality targets and the priority areas for investing an additional $90 million over five years. The Taskforce’s key objective is to ensure clean water flows from the rivers to the sea to ensure a healthy Great Barrier Reef. A key finding from the Taskforce was that no single tool will achieve the targets in isolation. Therefore, a range of tools are recommended to deliver the significant changes needed to cost-effectively improve reef water quality. The Taskforce is now considering feedback and other information and preparing a final report to submit to the Minister for the Great Barrier Reef by May 2016. The Executive Summary, Interim Report, animated video, supporting information and a survey are available on the Great Barrier Reef Living Wonder website.

Supporting sustainable agriculture in Queensland since 2003: infographic

Building skills of graziers in the mulga lands (Image: South West NRM)

Building skills of graziers in the mulga lands (Image: South West NRM)

Queensland’s Regional NRM Groups exist for just one reason – and that’s to support the improved management of our land and water resources. By doing so, we know that our prime agricultural land will be well managed, that more farmers will stay in regional towns, and that their farming enterprises will be more profitable and more productive. 

Continue Reading…

New technology restoring flood damaged creeks in Southeast Queensland

Engineered log jams are being used for the first time in South East Queensland to stabilise creek banks and protect high value farmland in Warrill Creek following the January 2013 floods. Continue Reading…

Grazing industry women share knowledge and experiences on unique bus tour

 Thirty-three female graziers, representing 28 grazing enterprises, attended NQ Dry Tropics’ Women In Grazing Bus Tour, held earlier this year.

At the unique event, leading female graziers shared their knowledge and experience as they spoke about ways to restore land and improve production, while reducing the impacts of agriculture on the Great Barrier Reef. Continue Reading…