Reef Trust Burdekin Reverse Tenders Pilot

An innovative project funded with $3.1 million under the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, helped Burdekin sugarcane growers reduce the fertiliser they applied to crops by more than 700 tonnes, dramatically lowering levels of excess nitrogen entering the Great Barrier Reef.

The Pilot Round of the Reverse Tender – Burdekin project ran from 2015–2016 to 2017–2018 and was designed to address the perceived risk for farmers, who committed to applying less nitrogen to their crop. Over these three years, the 16 farmers involved used much less nitrogen—traditionally delivered through urea—on their crops without affecting the quality or quantity of sugar cane grown.

At the end of three years the Reverse Tender pilot project resulted in 702 tonnes less nitrogen being applied. This represents an average fertiliser cost saving of $46 per hectare per year.

The farmers involved in the pilot project reported significant financial and environmental outcomes from their changed practices in addition to social outcomes, including increased confidence. Mr Jim Richardson said he was able to grow more sugarcane on less land, so he was able to go back to resting blocks with an extended fallow period. “That means we’re using less nitrogen and less fertiliser, because cane needs a certain amount of fertiliser, but it also needs other conditions to make it grow.”

Similarly, Mr Eric Barbagallo is a convert to the principle of applying the right amount of nitrogen to feed his crop, while at the same time profiting from reduced input costs. “As farmers, we’re environmentalists. That’s the best way to describe us. It’s about the environment, but if you save money as a farmer, it’s a win-win.”

Building on these early successes, three additional reverse tenders have now been held across the Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions, supported by a further $12 million investment through the Reef Trust.

More information can be found on the NQ Dry Tropics website or by watching this video.