Meet some of our growers

Who are the Reef Heroes?

Reef Heroes are the everyday people working to protect the Great Barrier Reef for future generations.  These are stories of the men, women and families along the Queensland coast who are using the very latest technology to improve their farming practices, reduce soil erosion and protect ocean water quality.

Victor Guarrera

Hoods are a farm accessory definitely in fashion for the Great Barrier Reef.

By putting hoods (or shields) on their weed sprayers, hundreds of farmers like Victor Guarrera have reduced the amount of herbicides they need to keep their cane crops clear of weeds. In fact, Victor has cut his herbicide use in half!

The hoods direct the spray straight down onto the weeds which are trying to gain a foothold in between the rows of cane – meaning none of the chemical drifts up and away to harm the environment or the crop.

Read more about Victor's commitment to minimising his impact on the Reef (PDF)  


Scroll down for more Reef Heroes 

Russell Jordan

Russell Jordan’s intelligent irrigation system aims for zero runoff – so no water, silt, fertiliser or anything else leaves his Burdekin paddocks. And if nothing is running off, there’s zero impact on the water quality of the creeks nearby and the marine environment.

The system also means he can turn his irrigation on and off even if he’s hundreds of kilometres from his farm. His cane blocks tell him when they need a drink and if he gets distracted, the water is shut off before any is wasted. That’s a saving in electricity and water.

Click here to read more about Russell Jordan's irrigation system (PDF)  

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Stephen and Brenden Accornero

The Great Barrier Reef doesn’t need fertiliser so sugarcane farmers like the Accornero family are working to make sure it doesn’t get any.

Stephen and Brenden use specialist machinery to ensure the fertiliser which is vital for their sugarcane crop, goes only where it’s needed – right into the root ball of the cane.

By splitting the ground and burying the granules, the likelihood of it washing away is minimised. It also means that the smallest amount can be applied to get the maximum return, saving them money and boosting production at the same time!

Click here to read more about the Accornero family farms (PDF)


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Michael Pisano

Michael’s trash is just what the Great Barrier Reef needs - not the trash that goes to the dump but a thick mulch blanket which holds moisture, reduces erosion and combats weeds.

Along with other growers around Ingham, Michael stopped burning his sugarcane decades ago. When the harvester cuts the green cane, tonnes of mulch (which farmers call trash) is left on the paddocks. High-tech machinery means Michael keeps his herbicide use a minimum, spraying  only where a weed is seen.

As a Reef Hero, Michael took a leading role in re-designing water flow in his district. Wetlands, swales and pumps control, slow and filter the water. Now the area is flourishing with reeds, insects and waterlilies and is home to flocks of ducks and other waterbirds.

Click here to read and see more about Michael's farm (PDF)


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Gerard Puglisi

As a fourth generation cane farmer, Gerard want to make sure he was managing his land sustainably and keeping his soil, fertiliser and pesticides on his paddocks — and not heading out to the Great Barrier Reef.

With government support, he's been able to do this. To spread the word about what the industry is doing, he's opened his Mossman farm up to tourists and fronted a TV commercial.

"These efforts are starting to pay off, with evidence showing water quality is improving," he says. "By reducing my fertiliser run-off, I’m helping to prevent more frequent outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish, one of the biggest impacts on the reef.
I am proud to be working to protect the Great Barrier Reef."

Click here to watch the Reef Heroes TV spot featuring Gerard Puglisi

Click here to watch an ABC-TV Landline program featuring Gerard Puglisi

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Ray and Rosemary Vicarioli

This farming couple has spent weeks pushing tonnes of dirt and gravel around, all with the Great Barrier Reef firmly in sight!

Ray and Rosemary Vicarioli have turned an eroded and deep drainage ditch into a sophisticated underground water filtering system. Now, any water flowing from nearby cane and banana paddocks is cleaned of sediment before it heads into a creek and out to sea.

The earthworks are not the only reasons the Vicariolis are Reef Heroes. They’ve ensured that hilly paddocks are contoured to slow water flow, soil tillage is kept to a minimum and natural watercourses are revegetated so the property is a haven for wildlife.

Click here to read and see more about the water filtering drain (PDF)

Want to visit Ray and Rosemary's farm? Click here for a video of their other Reef Hero projects

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Doug Rasmussen

Doug Rasmussen and his sons Justin and Rodney are proud of their 235 hectares of sugarcane between Port Douglas and Mossman and take their guardianship of the Great Barrier Reef seriously.

Doug says farming methods which are sustainable can also maximise yields.

The Rasmussen's stopped burning their cane and moved to trash blanketing over 30 years ago - and they haven't looked back. The giant mulch blanket keeps soil, water and fertiliser on their farm.

And by spreading a by-product of the sugar milling process, called filter mud, they've reduced the amount of fertiliser they use by 25%! The 'filter mud' is naturally high in lime and other key nutrients.

The whole farm is designed to work with its surroundings - paddocks slope the right way and at the right angle to ensure rainfall moves as slowly and evenly as possible, preventing erosion. Any soil which is washed away during the wet season is captured, collected and put back on low lying areas. 

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Paul Marbelli

Ingham grower Paul Marbelli has received several awards for improved productivity through best management practices - but that was not the motivation behind his business model. With a young son and an innate desire to leave his four farms in as good or better condition than when he started, Paul recognises that today’s farming needs a combination of skill and using whatever means are available to improve, including the Australian Government Reef Programme packages (formerly Reef Rescue).

Paul has completed soil, nutrient, weed and pest management courses, and has a commercial chemical operator’s licence that allows him to own and operate a high clearance spray tractor so he can control the direction and quantity of chemical use. This benefits his profitability and also the environment.

Paul was an early convert to the sub-soil fertiliser application method meaning he could stop  broadcasting the expensive commodity unnecessarily. Instead, he places the granules underground for new plantings and under the trash blanket of ratoon crops.

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Martin Cek

Martin Cek came into the sugar industry with the goal of boosting productivity and ultimately achieving a crop of 20,000 tonnes farmed in a sustainable way.

He's redesigned a 253 hectare cattle and rice property west of Mareeba for sugarcane. At the centre of his farming philosophy is a desire to disturb the soil as little as possible - a concept known as minimal till. And by planting into wider rows, the area compacted by farm machinery is minimised. He also aims to improve his yields through fallowing paddocks, giving the soil a rest from cane and using legumes to help nourish it.

Efficient management is essential for the Tableland farm, as it depends on water from the Mareeba-Dimbulah irrigation system to make the land productive. Martin's wife, Nicky, is the operations financial controller..

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Mario Raccanello

Farming on floodplains in the Riversdale area, Mario Raccanello is keenly focused on reducing run-off. He's set up a safety net of nutrient traps to all drains before the water discharges into inland lagoons surrounded by vegetation. Grass filters are maintained on all the exits before water enters the Tully River.

Mario has weed and nutrient management plans for his 330 hectare farm, on which he grows 30,000 tonnes of cane with 50 hectares of fallow.

A GPS system in all the farm’s main machinery keeps it within 2cm accuracy. Software is used to record all activities and inputs. Mario uses a variable rate fertiliser bin to apply a prescriptive fertiliser blend and all spraying is done with a rate controller.

Mario says the pin-point accuracy of machinery and the protection measures that farmers exert on their farms result in beautiful, healthy systems, appreciated by an abundant number of crocodiles, birds and fish.

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Shaun Betteridge

Shaun Betteridge’s decision to swap his grease and oil rags for the earthly pursuit of sugarcane farming nearly 20 years ago has stirred more passion within the young agriculturalist than he ever could have imagined and the fire shows no signs of extinguishing.

Under 40 years of age, Shaun is an unusual sight in an industry with a relative age closer to double his years.  He is not afraid to utilise the knowledge bank of his fellow growers to improve his own farming productivity and practices.

Situated about 10 km south of Home Hill, Shaun’s block has certainly presented some challenges with a patchwork of sand, clay and rich black soils that all pass through a ponding system to a lagoon where he runs about half a dozen head of cattle to reduce a fire hazard.

Shaun’s focus on his soils has not only boosted the soil and his profitability, but also his confidence as his yield and sugar content in his cane increased

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Faletti family

Proserpine growers, the Faletti family, say diversification, working together and machinery sharing underpin the success of the operation. Brothers Robert, Marc, Maurice, and their father John, together with their wives, own separate cane growing enterprises just north of Proserpine but farm as one unit to produce maximum tonnage from available land in an efficient, sustainable manner.

They share equipment to help minimise the costs of equipment purchase and repairs. This successful cooperation arrangement involves using Andrew’s GPS-guided billet planter and their 1997 model Toft harvester and a 10-tonne Carta bin. This saves them from having to buy extra machinery to each have a complete planting kit.

All cane is trash blanketed on rows mostly 1.6 m wide. They select the most suitable varieties for their mix of soils, which includes alluvial loams and some heavy black clays. Cane is kept young through rotation. Their 8 metre wide, high clearance spray unit based on a Fiat tractor does five rows at a time, covering up to 16 hectares (40 acres) in a day.

They save money by doing much of their own machinery repairs and fabrication. Robert and Marc are qualified mechanics and although Maurice does not have formal trade qualifications he has boiler-making experience and has done a TAFE course.

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Lay family

The Lay family has set a farming goal of high cane production at least cost using efficient, sustainable farming methods.

The success of their best practice farming approach is clearly evident in the productivity results recorded year after year on their adjoining farms at Homebush in Mackay’s prime irrigated cane area. Their crop management system is based on controlled traffic, GPS guidance, zonal tillage, break cropping with soybeans and efficient fertilising and weed control.

Everything Gary Lay and his family does is designed to save time, labour and fuel. Covering multiple rows in each pass is one way this is achieved. Now all cane is trash blanketed, most of the land is laser levelled and drains and headlands are carefully maintained.

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John Kingston

Isis cane grower John Kingston has always been quick to get involved with new ideas and making them work. The zonal rotary hoe in his shed is a prime example where John has taken up the idea of only cultivating the planting zone for cane and soybeans and then helping to develop a three-row rotary that is now sold throughout the industry.

GPS is fully implemented on the Kingston’s farms and John is moving toward using the technology to feed data into their business’s record-keeping. One of John’s sons has recently returned to work on the farm and together they are trialling the FarmWorks system to track inputs.

John is also looking into using the handheld GPS to mark things like areas of weed outbreaks, soil testing sites, underground drains and the like. Their harvest contractor also has GPS in the cab so there is potential to add harvesting data too at a later stage.

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Ashley Petersen

Ashley Petersen believes that for the Australian sugarcane to stay competitive, it has to concentrate on low-cost production. Ashley farms with his father, Lloyd, three brothers and two members of the fifth generation of the family.

The Petersens have implemented a controlled traffic system across their 450 ha of cropping land in the Maryborough – Hervey Bay district. Ashley has complete confidence in the dual-row raised beds they use to grow cane, pineapples and soybeans in rotation. He uses raised beds to drain water away, preventing water-logging, but just as importantly, moisture is conserved in the uncompacted beds in dry weather.

He says the farming system has returned significant benefits to their business, including improved net profits. They have seen a 30% reduction in tractor hours on one farm alone as say this type of reduction makes a huge difference to efficiency - not only the less distance travelled per hectare coupled with the higher pour rate means more tonnes in the bin per hour.

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Tony Huth

Rocky Point fourth-generation cane grower Tony Huth treads a fine line between prudent investment in farming operations that maximise productivity, efficiency, sustainability and over-capitalisation of a cane enterprise.

His father Ron still helps with farming chores as does Tony’s son, Justin, who will be the fifth generation cane grower if he achieves his fervent desire to secure a career in the industry.

Tony Huth has carefully tailored his crop management and machinery utilisation on land at Norwell and Jacob’s Well to optimise yields, limit costs and minimise labour requirements. Tony achieves better than average yields on some of the poorest country in the mill area, including low-lying acid sulphate prone soils and salty sandy areas.

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Robert Quirk

Robert Quirk has run a 200 ha cane farm at Duranbah in northern New South Wales for nearly 50 years. He is well known for trialing and implementing innovative farm practices and for his contributions to improving land and water management through on-farm action, scientific research and community involvement.

His approach to farming the Tweed Valley’s acid sulfate-rich volcanic and tidal soils, enabled him to reduce chemical use by 25%, decrease heavy metal and acidity discharge by 80%, and increase productivity by 38%.

Many of the practices Robert has developed on farm are now considered world’s best practice for farming acid sulfate soils. Not surprisingly, the Quirk family farm has become a popular stop-over for politicians, growers, engineers, tourists and students.

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Cane growers are proud of their environmental husbandry.