New sugar system gives Reef command to farmers
A small group of Queensland canefarmers have signed-on to a program aimed at reducing toxic run-off to the Great Barrier Reef.
The Queensland Government has announced the launch of a new program called SmartCane BMP (Best Management Practices), which seeks to teach farmers about the latest techniques and ideas for managing their land while reducing the detrimental effects to nearby environments.
The $3.5 million SmartCane program is coupled with the roll-back of regulations on the sugarcane industry, hoping farmers will take it upon themselves to reduce their impact on the ecology of north Queensland. It is not clear which or when regulations will be removed.
The program builds on the successful Reef Rescue initiative, which has now been bundled into the Coalition’s Reef 2050 Plan.
The SmartCane BMP program has been undertaken by a trial group of two growers. They elected to complete educational modules on drainage and irrigation, disease and weed control, soil health and plant nutrition, as well one of four finale courses in farm business, natural systems, workplace health and safety or crop production and harvest.
Growers in the SmartCane program will be allowed to audit themselves to see if they comply with the content of the educational modules, they can also call in an independent assessor to check their progress, and elect to undertake further training to improve their knowledge.
Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the program is about improving the industry, but that the most detrimental practices are already in the past.
“This is about improving productivity and profitability on the farm and that includes keeping the sediment on farms, that includes keeping the nutrient and pesticides on the farm,” he said.
“Practices back in the seventies where they'd spend countless hours tilling the soil only to wash off their paddock and into their neighbours and eventually into the watercourses around areas like Mackay did have a detrimental impact on the reef.”
A spokesperson for the World Wildlife Federation said the non-compulsory measures do not go far enough.
“We'd certainly like to see [requirements] strengthened particularly around nitrogen application and run-off,” he said.
“It feeds the crown of thorns starfish and the crown of thorns starfish eats the coral and has a massive impact.”
Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh claims similar programs have been successful in other industries.
“These programs have an excellent track record in the grazing, grains and cotton industries.
“It's the sugar industry's turn to take up that challenge.”