The Management practice targets in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2009 (Reef Plan) were:
- 80 per cent of landholders in agricultural enterprises (sugarcane, horticulture, dairy, cotton and grains) will have adopted improved soil, nutrient and chemical management practices by 2013
- 50 per cent of landholders in the grazing sector will have adopted improved pasture and riparian management practices.
Reef Plan made significant progress towards meeting these targets in 2013 with 49 per cent of sugarcane growers, 59 per cent of horticulture producers, 39 per cent of grain growers, 30 per cent of graziers and 74 per cent of dairy producers adopting improved practices.
When the targets were set in 2009, they were based on the best available evidence and designed to be ambitious. Since then, scientific knowledge and monitoring and modelling information has advanced significantly and the targets have been refined in Reef Plan 2013.
Two different metrics are used to describe farm management improvements. For each industry in each region, the number of landholders that are estimated (i.e. there is reasonable evidence) to have adopted an improved management practice, at some level, are reported. This is expressed as a percentage of the overall population of landholders in that region which has implications when reporting progress. For example, the Fitzroy and Burdekin regions are of similar size and dominated by grazing beef cattle. However, cattle businesses in the Burdekin are generally more extensive and the region is characterised by a relatively low number of large farms.
Below the management practice adoption estimate, a graph describes how overall farm management systems are changing over time. Farm management systems are made up of a complex suite of farm management practices, and achieving a farm management system change will typically involve the adoption of multiple new practices. Paddock to Reef modelling of estimated mean annual pollutant load reductions is based on estimated changes to farm management systems, with off-farm water quality impacts decreasing as management systems progress from D and C towards B and A systems.
Factors affecting agricultural industries in 2012 and 2013
Changing management practice can be a long and complex process that requires new or expanded knowledge and skills, and sometimes significant capital investment. An agricultural business’ capacity to afford such an investment is typically closely related to climatic and market forces beyond the landholder’s control. Recent challenges for landholders are briefly summarised below.
Ongoing impacts from Cyclone Yasi in 2011 continued for areas of northern Queensland. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald caused severe crop losses, and ongoing difficulties, in the Burnett Mary region in early 2013.
Production in most areas was significantly less in 2011-2012 due to excessive wet weather, with the exception of the Burdekin region where production was close to average. The sugar price for the 2011 harvest was significantly higher than it had been for several years, somewhat offsetting the lower yields. The situation reversed in the 2012 harvest season with most areas, apart from the Burdekin, recording near average yields. The price received for sugar was lower than the previous harvest, but still favourable.
The 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 years were characterised by a return to more typical production conditions for the majority of producers in most areas. The notable exception was ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald which severely impacted producers in the Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions. Avocado producers in the Wet Topics also suffered decreased production due to the impacts of sequential very wet seasons.
The period from 2011 to 2013 was very difficult for most dairy producers. Producers have been faced with severe wet season flooding (Cyclone Yasi and ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald) and extremely dry conditions either side of ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald in January 2013. This resulted in feed shortages and high animal health costs; at the same time farm gate prices have steadily declined due to heavy discounting of fresh milk prices by major retailers. Since the commencement of Reef Plan 2009, 99 dairy producers have exited the industry, largely due to financial pressure and natural disasters.
The 2011-2012 year was good for the majority of grain growers. Both summer and winter crop areas and yields were average or better, tempered however by the very poor price received. The 2012-2013 summer season was very favourable in most areas, with average market conditions.
GrazingWhilst seasonal conditions were very good for many graziers in 2011 and 2012, many other producers also suffered from the impacts of flooding, with ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald causing severe problems in the Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions. All regions were negatively affected by low commodity prices in 2011 and 2012. In most of the extensive grazing lands of the Great Barrier Reef catchment, many graziers suffered a feed shortage following a poor wet season in 2012-2013, and the situation is still desperate in most of this area.