Watch these videos to learn more about reducing nutrient and sediment run-off to the Great Barrier Reef.
What’s the deal with modelling and monitoring
This video focuses on how run-off from the Great Barrier Reef catchment is studied, and why it is important to understand water quality in the Reef.
Gillian McCloskey: There's so many things that people use modelling daily for and they probably don't think anything of it.
Tony Rossi: Modelling doesn't always excite farmers too much. Farmers like things that are real and measurable. If there's cobwebs in the lawn you won't have rain that day. Clouds in the sky, you know they're going to get rain. Flying ants swarm on the river and you can't see the mountain, you know it's going to rain.
Gillian McCloskey: The reason we do modelling is because it's too expensive, time and money, to monitor everywhere. So we use monitoring to give people an understanding of what their practices on farm or how that might be contributing to pollute and runoff to the Great Barrier Reef.
Louise Hateley: We collect as much data as we can from as many places as we can across the landscape. Let's just say that the water quality monitoring samples are a bunch of black dots on a page. These bunch of dots on a page don't really look like anything but once you actually join the dots together and make a picture, modelling is drawing those dots together.
Tony Rossi: Anything that happens in this little valley will end up getting picked up in the end of the river catchment. It helps people focus on what special issues are for their catchment. From what I know of farmers, they'll cop something if they think it's fair enough. So I guess farmers should be really quite happy with this end-of-catchment monitoring now because it's generally a good-news story. There's been so much progress made.
Louise Hateley: When we first started, maybe 10 years ago, there were 20 sites, maybe, and we're up now into the 60 and 70 number of sites.
Chris Rossi: It's largely seen of as a bit of a play around and not accurate. The water monitoring that happens in the river now is very technical so we can really believe it. Do farmers trust scientists? I think they do if they've worked with them. If the data stacks up and is done properly, they'll trust them, for sure.
Tony Rossi: So now it's trying to minimise nutrient runoff, being sensible about your pesticides application.
Chris Rossi: And what I've seen of the figures is really reassuring that people are moving in the right direction.
Life in a catchment
This video focuses on what can be done to improve Great Barrier Reef water quality and reduce polluted run-off in the Reef catchment.
Tony Rossi: We're lucky we live on the river. Being river folk has really influenced us. We want to have as little impact on the environment as possible, while still being highly productive farmers.
Chris Rossi: And one of the really great things that's happened all up the Queensland eastern coast is that all the major catchments have end-of-water loads monitoring now. Everyone lives in a catchment, whether you're in a city, country, farm, whatever.
Louise Hateley: So, you can think of, when the rainfall hits the landscape, it's going to fall into a catchment. That's basically an area that catches water and then will eventually flow either across the landscape or percolate down through the soil profile and eventually end up draining into the Great Barrier Reef.
Gillian McCloskey: We can give people an understanding of what their practices on farm, or how that might be contributing to pollutant run-off to the Great Barrier Reef. And we're able to show people that if they switch from practice X to practice Y that can actually have lesser pollutant runoff to the Reef, but it might still generate the same yield from their sugar cane.
Louise Hateley: And we want farmers to be able to produce the same yield.
Chris Rossi: I think a lot more farmers need to see those figures. Tony and I are involved in land care so we do see these figures regularly.
Tony Rossi: And as you see the water monitoring figures, they're really interesting because, not only are you getting regular background results, you do see in the storms or the flood events, the first runs, that's often when the loadings of pesticides or nutrients are at their highest. And having that fed back to a farmer really can explain how things are leaving these farms, and 350 days of the year, there's probably nothing leaving these farms, but understanding those events is very important.
Gillian McCloskey: A lot of people use the Reef recreationally. You know, Louise and I go hiking through the rainforest. I think we'd all like to see the land managed in a really sustainable way so that we can reduce our impact on the health of the Reef.
Chris Rossi: Everyone always says, "They should do something about it." We are they. This is acting locally, thinking globally. That's where you can make the change in your community and stop just whinging about. Just get out there and do it and you'll feel good.
Why is nitrogen important?
This video focuses on responsible use of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.
Tony Rossi: Nitrogen is a major component in the atmosphere. Without nitrogen you’re not going to grow much of a cane crop. If you don't replace that with something decent you're going to get caught with very small cane. So we're not saying grow cane with less nitrogen. It's just the source of the nitrogen, we're investigating the organic nitrogens which are a lot more stable.
We're taking it to the new level now where we're looking at minimising our inorganic fertiliser we use and going back to some of the traditional things that provides a lot of our nitrogen. And we're going into composting now. We're now getting a lot of our nitrogen, organic carbon, phosphate and potash from the compost blends. That's all quite a stable system too.
Traditionally we would normally top dress. We now top dress with the compost and then we hill up over it and then we're getting the wet season come through and gravity and even when that crops harvested the next year that compost is still underground and continues to give. There's been a few unexpected benefits from it all.
Ways that nitrogen is lost from the cane field is through run-off. Think of a big rain event and if fertiliser is just laid on top it can run away. Certainly more stable if you're putting it into the ground. Another challenge is feeding that crop the right amount of nutrients so that you actually also minimising that leaching that's going down.
Chris Rossi: We get a lot less runoff, we get a really fast take up of the fertiliser too so we're probably using at least a third less fertiliser now than the old cultivated days. In the old days production was everything and you just grew as big a crop as you could. You almost wanted to try and stop the mill with how big a crop you could grow. That was sort of how farmers used to operate. Nowadays most farmers realise that the application of fertiliser they put on is directly linked to the quality of the crop that will grow.
Tony Rossi: Things like the BoM radar we find it a very useful tool to us now. Whenever we're going to do any operation like spraying or fertilising, you basically look there, you can see what's coming in the next few hours. The last thing you want is to go and apply a chemical and then have it wasted by getting diluted by rain or something.
Chris Rossi: A lot of these farm lands have been farmed for over a century now. We've basically seen a general depletion of the organic structure that was there in the soil. When they first opened the ground up it was very fertile. But largely, it's a big balance. You're going to have the soil biota there and that's what builds good soil.
Farming for the future
This video focuses on improving practices for sustainable agriculture, healthy land and protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Tony Rossi: I consider myself a farmer and a scientist and there's not really much difference. A farmer is a person that's working in the landscape. We want to be able to feed our families and make money. But we also want to minimise the impact we're having off-farm.
Chris Rossi: I think every farmer, no matter where he is, always wants to think he's improving his ground and not just pillaging it.
Louise Hateley: We want farmers to be able to produce the same yield ideally without a huge cost to the farmer, but at the same time, improving water quality run-off from their farms.
Tony Rossi: Trying to minimise nutrient run-off and being sensible about your pesticides application. You don't want a rain event half an hour after you've applied some chemicals.
Chris Rossi: Tony and I've been members of Landcare since it started in the 90s. The revegetation works we've done over the last 25 years; when we drive around our community, we see the works that we've done, we see the full-grown trees. The buffers that we've been able to put along the river lines help with all the run-off. So a lot of that fertiliser or chemical run-off is captured in those little buffer strips. Also brought nature back to the farm that we hadn't seen as much of. Like in the old days of burning cane, a lot of the bird life and animals were either driven away or degraded. Even the water quality in the river is - we're catching as many fish as we ever had. And it's been a good thing. And we feel proud about doing that.
Tony Rossi: You know there's a wealth of information for farmers and anyone that is exposed to it is generally learning as they're going. It helps people focus on what the special issues are for their catchment.
Louise Hateley: We're up now in the 60 and 70 number of sites. We're also moving into the real-time nitrogen sensing probes that have been put into some key locations throughout the Great Barrier Reef. And a significant increase in the amount of monitoring that's been going on in the last 10 years, definitely.
Gillian McCloskey: And that's all of us, the community, our scientists, farmers, land managers -wherever they're from. I think we are all working towards the same end goal: Limit or even reduce our impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Tony Rossi: I think back to my uncle and father and how they worked in this landscape and they did a lot of bulldozing, pushed a lot of trees over, filled a lot of wetlands and swamp, turned it all into caneland, and opened up a lot of the country. They were men of their time and they were doing what was right. And we're men of our time and the game has changed. The expectations of farming have changed. And we're still about production but we just see things like establishing wetlands in the right places and planting trees in the right places as the way to go. So we're very proud of what we do, and we're very proud of what our fathers and uncles did because they were doing what was right at the time.
Better grazing, less sediment
This video focuses on reducing sediment run-off for better water quality in the Great Barrier Reef.
Jane Waterhouse: Fine sediment is one of the key pollutants to the Great Barrier Reef. We know that a large proportion of that comes from grazing lands in the catchments, and that's due to the large grazing areas.
Alex Stubbs: Certainly no farmer will farm or graze to the detriment of his land, his soil or his property. Because no farmer, if they realise or understand that there is a problem on their property would walk away from that responsibility.
Jane Waterhouse: The work that I'm involved in is looking at the impact of water quality run-off on the Great Barrier Reef. Part of my role, is actually go out during periods when it's raining and you have a flood. And we look at what are the materials that are getting out into the Great Barrier Reef and you can really see that difference. When you get sediment run-off you get that brownish water and that's when you can see that there's no way that the light can get through to the animals and plants that are on the bottom. From the beginning of when I started, I've seen a lot of changes.
Alex Stubbs: Fifteen years ago we had to evaluate water quality leaving grazing and farming areas and find the problems and develop solutions and improve on water quality.
Jane Waterhouse: We have a good understanding of the erosion rates from different grazing areas and we know that it's coming from a number of different types of erosion, so hill slope but as well as gullies and stream banks. And the last two, gullies and stream banks, are really about managing the landscape. And hill slope erosion is about managing ground cover.
Alex Stubbs: These soils, by world standards, are poor soils, they're not rich soils. And the top soil is only very thin and if you lose it, you're basically down to subsoil. So you are not going be doing anything to try and damage your topsoil. You want to maintain it, you want to maintain the organic growth, you want to maintain the natural elements of the ecosystem underneath our improved pastures that we have here.
Jane Waterhouse: So the stocking rate of cattle on properties and maintaining cover through different rotational arrangements, responding to the climate as well.
Alex Stubbs: Well we lock up blocks, we let them rotate. They will come back very vigorously with only an inch of rain and that will be a hundred percent ground cover on these properties. Through the industry development, Fitzroy NRM group, they develop the best management practices both for grains, grazing and I believe the sheep are doing it. Well there are five pillars to that and one of them is grazing management. The other one is soil health and then cattle productivity and then cattle animal welfare and health and human resource management. And we're always looking for better aids, better ideas, better concepts. With technology like it is now, if there's any better ways of doing some strategies or management practices they advise us accordingly. There's always improvement in water quality, there is always options.
Jane Waterhouse: The message is that we need to act quickly so that we can make a difference to the health of the Great Barrier Reef and it's outstanding universal value.
- Last updated
- 27 February 2019