Misguided reef policies risk economic hit

A detailed analysis has revealed the Queensland Government risks an economic hit to the state of $1.3 billion over ten years with a misguided push to cut nitrogen applications on sugarcane crops by up to 30% below industry best practice levels.

CANEGROWERS has used a large dataset derived from field trials of crop fertiliser responses to assess what would happen at different rates of nitrogen application. The economic impact was then analysed. The results of the study are published in the report Nitrogen Management in the Queensland Sugarcane Industry – The economic risks of policies that prescribe nitrogen rates below industry guidelines.

Rates 30% below SIX EASY STEPS (industry best practice) levels would mean:

  • A drop in crop production of 5 - 7.5 tonnes of sugarcane per hectare per year
  • An annual loss of 2.3 million tonnes of sugarcane across the Queensland industry
  • A loss of $110 million in earnings per year for cane growers and sugar millers
  • Processing capacity equivalent to two sugar mills becoming redundant

“We are doing all we can to reduce the risk to Great Barrier Reef water quality from runoff from our farms, including adopting a scientifically-based industry program, SIX EASY STEPS, to analyse soil and crop needs and determine optimal fertiliser rates for productivity,” CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri said.

“We are alarmed by the zealous campaign within government agencies and programs to drive nitrogen use below these guidelines without recognising the huge economic risk to growers and regional economies. This is happening without any direct evidence that dissolved nitrogen from farms is having any effect on corals in inshore areas which see catchment flows.”

Read the full CANEGROWERS media statement.

Why analyse a 30% cut to nitrogen use?

The 2019 Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act requires the relevant Minister to set regulations to reach water quality targets set by the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017-2022. Put simply, these targets are to move growers from a C to a B rating on the scale used in Reef Report Cards. A C rating is equivalent to SIX EASY STEPS (industry best practice for nutrient management) while a B rating is 30% below that.

While mandatory reductions in nitrogen use are not in the current regulations (thanks to the advocacy work of CANEGROWERS), the Act states that the government must review and change the regulations to meet the reef targets.

So CANEGROWERS is not exaggerating when saying that a 30% reduction is the underlying intent of reef regulations!