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

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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.”

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 – http://www.gbr.qld.gov.au/taskforce/final-report/

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
  • CANEGROWERS
  • 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

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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 admin@fba.org.au

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:  reef2050@environment.gov.au

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 https://bit.ly/1XtDUWM