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Reducing pollutant run-off: Report Card 2016 standouts

In the continuing drive to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing from catchments into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, learn more about programs in the Burdekin and Fitzroy regions which achieved two of the biggest results in 2015–2016.

Burdekin cane farmers using less fertiliser

Progress to date (20.9%) towards the dissolved inorganic nitrogen target (50% reduction by 2018) remains poor across the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2015­–2016, the greatest annual reduction was 5.5% in the Burdekin region where about 556 farmers are managing 83,000 hectares of sugarcane. The year’s result brings the region’s cumulative reduction since 2009 to 25.5% (moderate progress).

The 2016 reduction is the result of cane farmers applying less nitrogen fertiliser, having adopted the SIX EASY STEPS nutrient management process. Improvements in irrigation scheduling also contributed.

How the cane farmers were supported

Cane farmers were supported through two key programs designed to target high risk nitrogen fertiliser rates:

  • Reef Trust Tender - Burdekin, funded by the Australian Government and facilitated by NQ Dry Tropics, aimed to improve nitrogen and irrigation management practices on sugarcane farms. Farmers submitted tenders outlining how and to what extent they would improve their practices. Funding was allocated on the basis of maximum value for money in terms of nitrogen reductions. NQ Dry Tropics contracted 16 farmers (managing 8064 hectares) and achieved an annual reduction of 183 tonnes of nitrogen (an average reduction of 22 kg/ha).
  • The RP20C Burdekin Nitrogen Project, funded by the Queensland Government, aimed to provide evidence supporting the industry standard for nitrogen application—Six Easy Steps. Sugar Research Australia, who facilitated the delivery of the project, engaged with 23 farmers (managing 12,721 hectares) and achieved an annual reduction of 499 tonnes of nitrogen (an average reduction of 39 kg/ha). Soil moisture probes were also installed on 3936 hectares which allowed farmers to improve their irrigation scheduling practices. Hear from farmers involved in the project.

Fitzroy graziers protecting streambanks to prevent erosion

Progress to date (13.9%) towards the sediment target (20% reduction by 2018) remains poor across the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2015­–2016, the greatest annual reduction was 4.1% in the Fitzroy region where about 3666 graziers are managing 12.7 million hectares of land and 39,000 kilometres of streambanks. The year’s result brings the region’s cumulative reduction since 2009 to 9.5%, up from 5.5%. While progress to date remains poor, this year’s progress far exceeds that of previous years.

The 2016 reduction is mainly the result of graziers protecting streambanks by limiting cattle access in locations where relatively large amounts of sediments are washed into the Reef lagoon.

How the graziers were supported

Graziers were supported through two key programs:

The Fitzroy Basin Association used catchment modelling to prioritise locations for investment, resulting in the biggest sediment reductions they have ever achieved.

Investing in the journey to change

It is important to acknowledge that changing farming practices can be challenging, particularly when the potential benefits are not clear or the change requires new knowledge, skills or investment in farm equipment and infrastructure.

Over recent years, Reef water quality investments have focused on practices that are relatively easy to adopt and that present little perceived production risk, while financial incentives were used to speed up the rate of adoption.

Since 2013, however, the investment mix has been changing to reflect more challenging practice changes. Sometimes they involve farmers trialling new practices to prove them on their farm before they are implemented across the property.

The Queensland and Australian governments are providing increased support for extension services to work with farmers on adapting changes to their particular circumstances in order to get the most successful outcomes.

Last updated
27 October 2017

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