CANEGROWERS works to ensure sugarcane businesses are environmentally sustainable as well as productive and profitable.

Growing cane next to the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, with some of the most variable climatic conditions in the world, means the Queensland sugarcane industry has developed a culture of innovation. Water quality and the health of the Reef influence continual improvement.

The CANEGROWERS Position statements on Reef regulations, Smartcane BMP and vegetation management are available for download.

Modern sugarcane farming practices, that ensure water leaving farms is as clean as possible while also improving productivity, are now widespread through the Queensland industry.

  • Green cane harvesting and trash blanketing for soil moisture, health and erosion control
  • Sub-surface fertiliser application to reduce nitrogen losses
  • Rotation cropping and fallows for soil health and pest management
  • Precision agriculture and guidance systems for soil health and targeted application of inputs
  • Waterway vegetation and wetlands for ecosystem health

These farming practices form part of a suite of best management practices that cover the whole farm - soil health and fertiliser, herbicide and insecticide use for insect pest and weed control, biosecurity and disease management, irrigation and drainage, wetland and riparian management and controlling pests including pigs and rats.

CANEGROWERS members are keen participants in government programs to improve water quality for the Reef, investing $1.80 for every $1.00 of government funding in programs including Reef Rescue, the Reef Programme and Reef Trust.


Smartcane BMP is the sugarcane industry's voluntary best practice program. Its three core modules cover the practices listed above and have a clear water quality focus.

Smartcane BMP is a pathway to recognition under Bonsucro, the international standard for sustainable sugar.

Growers accredited in the core modules of Smartcane BMP are deemed by the Queensland Government to be meeting its requirements under regulations to protect the Reef. This recognises that growers are demonstrating their environmental stewardship of the land adjacent to the Reef lagoon.


CANEGROWERS argues that the reef regulations should be repealed as they are not the best mechanism to achieve a high standard of environmental practice, instead they promote a minimum standard and stifle innovation.

CANEGROWERS believes that Smartcane BMP, and its focus on continual improvement, is the better approach for growers focussed on productivity, profitability and sustainability.


Soil health, fertiliser and nitrogen use efficiency

Soil and nutrient management practices on Queensland sugarcane farms have changed significantly over the past 20 years, greatly improving the efficiency of crop production. Recommendations for optimal nitrogen rates have become more accurate and site specific providing better nitrogen use efficiency and ensuring loss to the environment is minimised. The management of nitrogen is a critical issue for both crop productivity and risk to water quality, and

CANEGROWERS supports efforts to identify and refine the optimal rate of nitrogen consistent with achieving both improved profitability and reduced impact on water quality.  

CANEGROWERS is working with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) and experts in nitrogen use and soil health to review the latest research on nutrient management .   

The outputs of this project will be guidelines (possibly a decision tree) for improved nitrogen management and will  include an assessment of the reliability of the Six Easy Steps guidelines, any caveats on their use by growers, plus recommendations for their ongoing improvement. 

The plan is to have this completed by mid-2017 and updated in the Smartcane BMP standards by the end of 2017. 


Chemical use

The use of herbicides and pesticides is an important component of crop management and it is in the interests of both growers and the environment that such chemicals are used efficiently, carefully and in accordance with label requirements and any other regulatory obligations.

CANEGROWERS organises and supports grower training in the application, handling and storage of chemicals. 

CANEGROWERS also supports and promotes programs that mange chemical drums and unused chemicals such as ChemClear and drumMUSTER.

Shirtan® is a fungicide used by approximately 80% of cane growers to treat pineapple sett rot disease. Shirtan® contains mercury and the Australian Government has indicated the phase-out of Shirtan® would occur in 2020 based on Australia’s possible ratification of the Minamata Convention on mercury.

CANEGROWERS has worked with the wider industry and the Department of the Environment and Energy and provided advice to the Australian Government that the majority of industry favours a move away from Shirtan® to alternative fungicides. 



Rats can cause damage to sugarcane and the overall productivity of a crop.  Growers are allowed to bait rats, however there are conditions that must be followed for baiting to occur.

The two species of native rat, the ground rat (Rattus sordidus) and the climbing rat (Melomys burtoni) are native grassland animals and are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and their control is subject to the Queensland Government issuing a Damage Mitigation Permit.

CANEGROWERS has secured an industry-wide permit to bait rats which avoids the necessity of individual growers applying for individual permits. Growers baiting for these rats must keep a record and provide this information to their local Cane Productivity Board.

Following representations from CANEGROWERS, a special permit for the aerial baiting of rats via helicopter or UAV in the Herbert River and Mackay districts has been issued for 2017 by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.


Cane firing

The vast majority of sugarcane in Queensland is now cut green and the leafy matter is left on the paddock to become organic matter in the soil.

However there are circumstances under which sugarcane is still burned prior to harvest. Storm damage or flood debris in the cane or an unusually large and leafy crop means it could be dangerous or difficult to cut green.

CANEGROWERS has collated the relevant cane firing guidelines to assist growers with the permits, approvals and notifications required before cane is burned. This document is available on the Member Resources page or by emailing CANEGROWERS.