CANEGROWERS believes that Queensland’s sugarcane farmers are doing remarkable things when it comes to protecting and caring for their industry, the environment and the reef. There has been a significant acceleration in recent years in the voluntary adoption of practices that simultaneously improve industry productivity and environmental outcomes with enormous potential for further innovation in the future.
Cane to Coast celebrates and showcases the commitment and dedication of sugarcane growers and features some of the innovative solutions and exciting projects that are changing the way the industry interacts with the environment. Farmers are undertaking innovative work on their land to boost productivity and profitability while protecting their environment and ultimately the Great Barrier Reef.
The sugarcane industry has undergone a revolution over the past two decades with farming practices being closely scrutinised as governments look to manage run-off and environmental impacts from farms as part of the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan to care for and protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Farmers have embraced the Australian Government Reef Programme and its many funding opportunities, reporting a win-win situation as they benefit from improved farming practices, as well as environmental and economic gains.
Broadscale changes have been implemented and innovative research projects continue to be conducted to improve water quality in the catchments flowing to the Great Barrier Reef while maintaining or improving farm productivity. Changes include controlled traffic farming; fallow cropping; green cane harvesting and trash blanketing; soil testing and precision application of chemicals and nutrients; the use of biofertilisers; paddock redesigning to manage water use and flow; and advancements in irrigation and drainage management, just to name a few.
Of course, there are many growers who have been employing best practice methods throughout their farming career, and just as many who have been determined to prove industry critics wrong. Herbert River district grower Frank Russo was once told "dinosaur" cane farmers needed to change their practices or "get out of the industry".
Gaining best practice accreditation in the three core modules of Smartcane BMP, an industry-developed and owned continuous improvement program, Frank believes he has proven that he and others of his generation can demonstrate a thing or two about being good environmental stewards.
Herbert River district grower Frank Russo is determined to prove the critics wrong and says farmers of his generation are embracing best management practices.
CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri says there is no doubt that cane growers want a healthy and sustainable industry and that means a healthy and sustainable reef also.
“This is our environment as much as it is any Australian’s. We are committed to playing our part to ensuring its future. We have a good story to tell and we need to be proactive in ensuring that the community understands we are making headway towards environmental sustainability,” Paul said.
“CANEGROWERS believes regulation is a blunt instrument that supports minimum standards of compliance at the expense of fostering a culture of innovation and excellence.
“Compliance measures bring everyone down to a lowest common denominator. Money would be better spent on encouraging and assisting growers to move to and beyond industry best management practice farming methods. The sugarcane industry’s Smartcane BMP program does this. It focuses growers on productivity and profitability, alongside environmental sustainability."
Paul is leading by example having achieved accreditation in 2016 and is now keen to challenge more cane growers to undertake the process and get the message out to the community and key markets about the good work they are doing to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Read more.
Take a Virtual Bus Tour around the Mackay farms that Paul works with his brother Joe, as they share their passion for sustainable farming and the many benefits for farmers and the environment alike. Watch more.
As of January 2021, 608 growers are now accredited, encompassing 132,987 hectares. Paul believes growers now see Smartcane BMP as a normal part of their farming practice.
Accredited growers have the added benefit of being deemed compliant with reef regulations, with the Queensland Government recognising that these growers are going beyond the regulatory requirements in managing their cane crops for productivity while reducing risk to water quality.
An independent evaluation of the Smartcane BMP program revealed that more than half of all program participants reported a change in practice relating to nutrient, chemical and/or irrigation management and linked this to improved efficiency, and reduced losses of nutrients and chemicals.
CANEGROWERS CEO Dan Galligan says the high levels of engagement in government reef programs and the fact that over 30% of Queensland's cane area is managed by Smartcane BMP accredited growers, clearly shows that growers are working hard to care for their environment, while also making gains for their bottom line.
“When growers, government and the science community work together, there is no doubt we can achieve our common goal of ensuring that farming beside the reef can be sustainable and provide a future for generations to come,” Dan said.
In 2017, then Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles signed a Cane Changer commitment acknowledging the ongoing efforts of cane growers to improve farming practices, especially as they relate to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Miles did however make it clear that there would be no backing down in the Queensland Government’s plan to expand reef regulations to include more catchment areas and additional agricultural industries.
Now more than ever Queensland's sugarcane farming industry should be seeking to prove its critics wrong and demonstrate that farmers are proud environmental custodians. As Burdekin grower Russell Jordan said on achieving Smartcane BMP accreditation, "When we cop criticism, we can...put this up as proof we are doing the right thing as an industry."
From left: CANEGROWERS Senior Manager - Membership Engagement & Innovation Matt Kealley, Burdekin grower Russell Jordan, CANEGROWERS Environment and Sustainability Manager Mick Quirk and CANEGROWERS Burdekin Chair Phil Marano.