Reef science in spotlight

A speaking tour by prominent north Queensland academic Dr Peter Ridd has raised questions around some of the scientific studies of the Great Barrier Reef as well as CANEGROWERS attitude to and involvement in farm practice improvement and water quality programs.

The sugarcane industry in Queensland is obligated to operate under policies and laws that governments say are formulated and guided on the basis of science. This includes the Reef Bill currently before the Queensland Parliament. Naturally, growers have a keen interest in the science and in any concerns or discrepancies around it, particularly where it is used to justify regulation on industry practices.

CANEGROWERS has engaged with and our members constantly work with scientists in all fields related to land management and the Great Barrier Reef – see the interactive map for a snapshot of this involvement.

CANEGROWERS is responding to members’ interest in opportunities to listen, question and understand. Dr Ridd (formerly a professor at James Cook University) has raised ’11 questionable claims’ about the Great Barrier Reef. These have drawn a detailed response from the Australian Coral Reef Society (an organisation of reef researchers).

What is CANEGROWERS involvement in the August 2019 speaking tour?

Dr Peter Ridd offered to talk to communities in cane growing regions on the topic How Reliable is the Science Demonstrating Damage to the Great Barrier Reef? The Need for Better Quality Control and asked CANEGROWERS Districts to assist with the organisation of the events. This is done all the time for organisations and companies wanting to reach growers, most events just don’t get the attention that these have attracted. In these situations, each local district takes its own approach, reflecting the priorities of its local community and members.

The best way to acknowledge peoples’ concerns and uncertainties is through greater communication of science and we would encourage any scientist who wants to work with CANEGROWERS to take a similar opportunity to talk directly to growers and the industry as a whole.

Does CANEGROWERS agree with Dr Peter Ridd?

CANEGROWERS represents sugarcane farmers, it is not a scientific organisation and does not put itself forward as such. It is not CANEGROWERS role to arbitrate on science. CANEGROWERS understands that there is always a degree of uncertainty in any scientific study, and that decision-making takes account of the weight of evidence.

Being engaged with scientists is part of CANEGROWERS commitment to the pursuit of a sustainable future for the industry and the Great Barrier Reef. Members, as individuals, can of course form and hold their own opinions.

What’s CANEGROWERS view on calls for independent quality assurance for science?

This is an issue that the science community will have to discuss and resolve should there be consensus that the current system of peer review not be adequate.

Do the questions being raised about the science change CANEGROWERS approach to the Reef and water quality projects and programs in which it is involved?

CANEGROWERS and its members remain committed to managing the impact of farming on the waterways that feed into the Great Barrier Reef and the organisation and its members have helped develop and implement many programs aimed at achieving this. These programs include Smartcane BMP and Cane Changer, initiatives of CANEGROWERS, which have co-investment from the Queensland and Australian governments.

Smartcane BMP is also designed as a program to improve productivity and profitability and it is setting the industry up to meet market demands for sustainable sugar - so it has economic benefits as well as environmental ones.

CANEGROWERS has shown time and again its willingness to work cooperatively with programs and organisations that seek to collaborate with growers.

CANEGROWERS members work with many scientists, including those working on improved farming practices and monitoring of catchment water quality, to manage impacts. None of this is changing so government and scientists alike should continue to have confidence in CANEGROWERS and its members.