There are many great things about being a farmer, but among the best is living and working on the land day in, day out and feeling connected to country.
Every farmer I know feels an enormous sense of gratitude and responsibility for the natural environment that supports their business.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the environment, we all too often hear nothing but negative news, with the far more realistic and positive stories often not getting the attention they deserve.
So, it was a pleasant change recently to read some encouraging news about the quality of the water flowing into the reef and the resulting positive impacts on reef health and marine life.
The recently released Wet Tropics Waterway Health Report Card rates the water quality; habitat and hydrology; and fish stocks across the nine river catchments in the Wet Tropics.
These catchments cover a huge swath of Queensland’s cane country, from Ingham to the Daintree.
It’s a region where growers have spent decades implementing farming practices to balance profitability and sustainability and have now positioned us to be up there as one of the most sustainable producers of sugar in the world.
This on-going effort is reflected in the 2022 Report Card, with seven of the nine catchments receiving a B grade and one, the Daintree, getting top marks with an A.
Fish stocks across eight of the catchments were found to be good or very good, while habitat also got a B grade in two-thirds of catchments.
The overall picture is one of a healthy system, from creeks and rivers to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
Unfortunately, if I hadn’t been Chairman of CANEGROWERS I might never have heard this great news.
While I’ve seen plenty of negative media on reef health, it is hard to find any media reports highlighting these positive results - proving the old adage that bad news sells.
The stories that surround the reef are polarising and often divisive. The reality is farmers have been doing their bit to protect the health of their local catchments.
The long-term health of the reef may well be at risk from the effects of increasing sea surface temperatures, but it is the efforts of farmers and land managers to look after water quality that are shielding the reef.
Ensuring the public recognises these efforts is certainly a challenge, but the work of the industry through our best management practice program, Smartcane BMP, has been instrumental in changing this public perception.
While it is frustrating for us to often have to prove what most of us have been doing all along, Smartcane BMP ensures that growers are being recognised and appreciated for their efforts.
The program continues to grow, with 40% of Queensland cane land now accredited and recognised as being sustainably farmed. This is central to ensuring the industry maintains community support.
With the community on our side, we get ever closer to getting government to sit up and take notice and back policies that recognise and support growers.
The ultimate goal is to have government work with us to grow the potential of our industry. But this will only come when policy moves from handbrake to accelerator.