Reef horizon–looking forward to future report cards

At report card time, it’s natural to focus on the progress already made towards the targets; however, it is important to also recognise the large amount of on-ground work underway that is yet to be reflected in the results.

So why are some management practice improvements not reflected in Report Card 2016?

  • New investment – recently funded on-ground programs, some new, some ongoing, need time to achieve results.
  • Time lag – the results detail progress to June 2016; with achievements since that time being recorded in future report cards.
  • Land management change is complex – making changes often involves gaining new knowledge and skills. In some cases, it also requires considerable investment in farm equipment and infrastructure. This takes time but the willingness of producers to improve practices is higher than ever and the results will follow.
  • Trial first – various trials of innovative solutions to reduce pollutant run-off are taking place but need to be completed and evaluated before they can be rolled out on a larger scale, or in more catchments.

Below are some examples of programs supporting changes on land that directly improve the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. Future reporting will better reflect progress from many of these programs towards new catchment targets, as the benefits to Reef water quality from these considerable investments are realised.

Rolling out industry best practices

Best management practice (BMP) programs are continually being rolled out in Reef catchments in partnership with industry, with funding from the Queensland Government. These voluntary industry-led programs help landholders benchmark their practices (self-assess against industry management practice standards). They also identify changes that can improve the long-term productivity, profitability and sustainability of their enterprise while also providing benefits to the environment.


  • Sugarcane – $9 million funding. Since 2013, 1624 growers have been benchmarked (representing 69% of cane production area in reef catchments) and 235 growers have achieved accreditation.
  • Grazing – almost $8 million funding. Since 2013, 1297 businesses in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions have been benchmarked and 87 graziers certified. More than 12 million hectares of grazing land self-assessed.
  • Bananas – $600,000 funding. Since 2015, 100 growers (representing 73% of the banana production area in north Queensland) have completed the program and benchmarked their practices.

Sandy Creek growers taking ownership of water quality

Growers in the Sandy Creek catchment of the Mackay Whitsunday region have conducted on-farm trials and are working with water quality scientists to undertake local-scale monitoring. Social scientists are also talking with the growers to understand what motivates practice change. The trials, funded by the Queensland Government, are demonstrating that profitable practices can improve water quality and are fostering the growers’ ownership of water quality issues in the catchment.

Burdekin canegrowers using less nitrogen

Building on the success of the RP20 Burdekin Nitrogen Project, a further 90 growers are working one-on-one with agronomists until July 2018 to optimise production and reduce input costs while keeping the fertiliser where it’s needed – on their farms. Because this Queensland Government funded project involves using less fertiliser, this also means that nitrogen run-off to waterways is reduced. In just the first-year, growers have applied 82 tonnes less of nitrogen over four and a half thousand hectares.

Reef Trust projects

The Australian Government has taken a phased investment approach for the Reef Trust to allow each of its programs to be evaluated and adopted. The Reef Trust Phase III Investment Program is engaging agricultural land managers to increase the adoption of management practices that reduce pollutant loss. Investment is phased to allow each investment to be evaluated and adapted. A total of $56 million has been allocated to four projects:

  • Reef Alliance – Growing a Great Barrier Reef – a consortium-led approach to changing land management practices across multiple regions in cane, grazing, dairy, horticulture, bananas, grains and cropping. This $45.7 million project aims to change and improve management practices across the industries by providing a combination of extension, training and incentives.
  • Project Catalyst Revamp – game changing farm management practices – building on Project Catalyst, this $3 million project will see 320 innovative sugarcane growers improve their nutrient and chemical management to maximise the environmental and production benefits.
  • Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Sustainable Agriculture Cane – this $4.4 million project will facilitate the adoption of best management practices to reduce nutrient and pesticide run-off from sugarcane farms.
  • Project Pioneer – innovation in grazing land management – funding of $2.9 million will facilitate a whole-of-business approach to reducing sediment run-off by coaching graziers to improve land condition and profitability.

Queensland Reef Water Quality Program

Improving the quality of water flowing to the Reef is one of the Queensland Government’s priorities. An additional $100 million over five years to 2020 has been allocated to the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program, supplementing the existing annual $35 million commitment.

A range of new projects are being funded including:

  • Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund trials:
    • gully remediation – a $2 million matched-funding agreement with Greening Australia to trial different remediation techniques in the Burdekin region
    • bioreactors in the sugarcane and banana industries – approximately $900,000 to develop and monitor bioreactors (which remove dissolved inorganic nitrogen when water passes through them) in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions
    • constructed wetlands to reduce nutrient run-off – over $355,000 to trial the use of constructed wetlands in the Mackay Whitsunday and Burdekin regions
    • innovative agriculture – over $810,000 to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off in the sugarcane, grazing and horticulture industries.
  • Two major integrated projects:
    • the Wet Tropics MIP is working with cane and banana growers in the Tully and Johnstone catchments to reduce nutrient and pesticide run-off. Initial plans are to trial 10 bioreactors, two landscape wetlands, two constructed wetlands, four sediment basins and two riparian buffer zones. Extension, incentives and demonstration farms are also included.
    • the Burdekin MIP, known as Landholders Driving Change, is supporting graziers in the Bowen, Broken and Bogie catchments to reduce sediment and nutrient run-off. Actions include grazier support programs to encourage graziers to improve their land management, landscape remediation and trialling tailored solutions to control erosion.
  • $4 million in grants to deliver on-ground projects that reduce pollutants flowing to the Reef in the Mackay Whitsunday and broader Central Queensland regions.
  • $10 million for enhancing extension and education programs that support farmers in achieving greater and accelerated on-ground practice change.
  • $2 million for the innovative industry-led Project Cane Changer whereby canegrowers will work with behavioural psychologists to foster widespread practice change across the sugarcane industry.

In addition, the Queensland Government operates a compliance program that helps landholders understand what is required under the reef protection regulations for sugarcane and grazing properties in the high priority catchments of the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday.

Enhanced efficiency fertiliser trials

This joint Australian and Queensland government’s $7.1 million project is trialling enhanced efficiency fertiliser on cane farms over three cane growing seasons until 2021. The new generation of fertilisers can better control the release of nutrients to match the needs of the crop, potentially increasing cane yields, using less fertiliser and, thereby, less nutrient run-off.

Tackling gully erosion

Under the Great Barrier Reef Gully and Streambank Joint Program, the Queensland and Australian governments are investing more than $45 million over six years to 2022 to tackle sediment run-off by fixing gullies and streambanks in high erosion areas of the Reef catchments.

The bulk of the funding is provided through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust Gully Erosion Program which is piloting a range of approaches to reduce gully erosion.

  • Phase II provided $7.5 million to community groups and organisations to work with private landholders in four targeted regions.
  • Phase IV provided a further $29 million to nine projects from 2016 to 2022. These projects are targeting some of the highest risk areas of erosion and sediment loss in the Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy, Burnett Mary and Cape York regions. They are being delivered in partnership with private landholders.

Competitive tenders for reducing nitrogen run-off from fertiliser

The Wet Tropics and Burdekin are the highest priority regions for reducing dissolved inorganic nitrogen run-off from fertiliser used in intensive agriculture. Through the Reef Trust, the Australian Government trialled the use of reverse tenders in 2015 and 2016 to provide flexibility for sugar cane farmers to determine their own nitrogen reduction targets and cost-effective means of achieving those targets. This model is now being rolled out through a program of repeated tenders where under the Australian Government Reef Trust Phase IV $15 million from 2016 to 2022 will build on the previous competitive tender pilots in these regions. Farmers will be invited to identify the nitrogen and irrigation improvement activities that best suit their circumstances and cost-effective means of implementing them. Under the first two competitive tender trials, 30 cane farmers have saved 358 tonnes of nitrogen.