Wet Tropics

    You can read more about how social monitoring will be measured in future report cards.


    Cane to Creek Russell Mulgrave Growers and the Nitrogen Story

    Cane to Creek farmer Lenny Parisi who won the Prince of Wales Environmental Leadership Reef Sustainability Award in 2019.

    The Cane to Creek project worked with more than 30 Russell Mulgrave sugarcane growers to increase adoption of best nutrient management practices to improve water quality by piloting a grower adoption strategy. A combination of on-farm demonstrations, real-time water quality monitoring and analysis, one-on-one extension and group learning methods were used. The project was funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and delivered by Sugar Research Australia (SRA).

    Over two years, 18 demonstration activities were undertaken to highlight on-farm opportunities for improving nutrient management in line with SIX EASY STEPS nutrient recommendations. A sub-catchment monitoring group was also established in the Fig Tree Creek area, and growers completed training in SIX EASY STEPS Putting Theory into Practice as well as Accounting for Legume Nitrogen.

    To better understand some of the gains made during the SIX EASY STEPS workshops, a survey was undertaken with the growers involved. The survey found that:

    • Over 90% agree with the statement: “I now have a much better understanding about nutrient loss pathways and how to manage them”.
    • Over 95% agree with the statement: “I now have a better understanding on how to check the adequacy and efficiency of my nutrient/fertiliser applications”.

    This highlights the focus of Cane to Creek in building grower literacy and independence to make sound choices in nutrient management.

    Growers who had been involved in the Cane to Creek project were surveyed to gain an understanding of their perceptions around the relationship between sugarcane farming and water quality and their ability to influence this. The survey found the growers involved felt a strong sense of responsibility to help maintain and improve water quality in their local creeks and on the Reef. The growers also strongly agreed that the actions they undertake on-farm can influence water quality and that involvement in the Cane to Creek project helped them to understand the opportunities to improve water quality.

    This brief video highlights the benefits local sugarcane farmers gained from the project, including how much they appreciate the real time water quality monitoring and how that might influence their practice change.

    Project awards

    While this project was completed in 2019, Cane to Creek will continue in a revised and expanded form as Cane to Creek 2.0 with funding received from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and staff support from SRA’s Adoption Unit.

    Protecting our chemicals for the future through the accelerated adoption of best management practices

    The Protecting our Chemicals for the Future through the Accelerated Adoption of Best Management Practices project worked with local sugarcane farmers in the Wet Tropics to increase their uptake of best management practices relating to chemical use. This was achieved through increased engagement of growers in the science that helps explain the risk of chemical loss to local waterways.  The project was completed in 2019 and was co-funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program, Sugar Research Australia, Bayer Crop Science and Nufarm.

    From 2016 to 2019, the project worked with more than 200 farmers managing a total of 2,885 hectares in the Mulgrave, Tully and South Johnstone region to improve sugarcane practices. Farmers changed their practices with regards to herbicide selection and application timing, technique and amounts, which will all have positive water quality outcomes.

    Two very simple, but far reaching principles have been adopted as a result of the project: ’Less on = Less off’ and ‘Timing really matters’. These messages were underpinned with group learning activities to improve understanding of herbicides and their potential to impact water quality in addition to on-farm demonstrations of best practices, giving growers the opportunity to try new practices and learn together. Rainfall simulations provided detailed local data sets to highlight which herbicides pose the greatest risk in relation to run-off, while the latest toxicity data from the Office of the Great Barrier Reef helped growers understand the relative risk of each product available to them. Growers were encouraged to use the information and examples to make the best decisions across their farm.

    To better understand the social outcomes, a number of farmer surveys were undertaken. These found that by 2019, 100 of the farmers involved now understand that pesticides are entering waterways and 100% consider the environment as a factor in decision-making.  Watch this video to hear from some of the local farmers involved in the project talking about why they got involved and the benefits they received.

    The great work achieved by this project will be continued through the Cane to Creek 2.0 project funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation .

    Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project

    Through the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (MIP), Terrain Natural Resource Management (Terrain NRM) has been working with local landholders and community members since late 2016 to reduce the amount of nutrients, sediment and pesticides running into local waterways and out to the Reef. The project is grassroots focused, with growers involved in decisions at all steps along the way – from design, to identifying promising practices and where to consider installing treatment systems. The project has installed catchment repair and treatment systems, increased extension support services, provided local-scale water monitoring and is trialling an innovative Reef Credits scheme.

    The project has already achieved several improved land management and water quality outcomes. By late 2019, the Wet Tropics MIP had designed and constructed 14 innovative catchment repair treatment systems, reducing pollutant loads off farms. The systems are being measured to determine their effectiveness and cost efficiency across a range of settings and soil types. Another major achievement has been the development of a local-scale water quality monitoring program, focused on providing data for growers. This has then been followed-up with the installation and monitoring of 37 demonstrations sites covering practice change, N-loss pathways and catchment repair.

    This project is also reporting social outcomes. The local water quality monitoring program is responding to the grower request to “Show me it's my N and I’ll do something about it”.  This initiative has resulted in unprecedented grower participation, attracting 216 landholders, representing 33,212 hectares of sugarcane and banana land (70% and 65% of the production area in the Johnstone and Tully respectively).

    As a result of attending the local water quality shed meetings, 85% of sugarcane growers rated their increase in knowledge about local water quality issues at 8/10 or above. This knowledge has already influenced their motivation with 76% of the growers surveyed rating their interest in making changes at 6/10 or above.

    The project continues to work with growers to identify, and in some cases test and demonstrate, changes that will deliver both a water quality and productivity outcome and this focus is key to supporting ongoing uptake and long-term stewardship.

    “Onsite monitoring is great. Taking the farmers with you is the key to success. The MIP is the best thing that has happened so far [with WQ] issues.”

    “We should have had this 10 years ago!”

    Watch this video about a key MIP grower from the Wet Tropics looking after the landscape.

    The Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project is funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program. More information about the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project is available at Terrain NRM.

    Cane Changer

    Project Cane Changer is an evidence-based behaviour change program for the Queensland sugar industry. It is an initiative of CANEGROWERS , carried out in partnership with Evidn (formerly Behaviour Innovation). The Cane Changer project draws on principles of psychology and human behaviour to better understand growers and help increase farmers’ adoption of best management farming practices that are known to improve water quality through Smartcane Best Management Practice (BMP) program.

    The project officially commenced in the Wet Tropics in early 2016, with funding from the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program . Recent funding from the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has seen Cane Changer continue momentum into 2020 throughout the Wet Tropics whilst expanding further south into the Mackay, Burdekin and Southern sugarcane regions of Queensland.

    As signalled by the project’s slogan, ‘Setting the Record Straight’, Cane Changer focuses on activating change within the community by building a positive industry identity and delivering capacity building training across key stakeholders such as growers, millers and extension staff. Since project commencement in 2016, accreditation rates in Smartcane BMP increased across the Wet Tropics region by 440% by the end of 2019. This rate of change is more than double all other regions combined and resulted from the joint effort invested from several projects including Cane Changer.

    Growers participating in Cane Changer are tracked across the length of the project through an attitudinal social survey which measures key social indicators and psychological variables predictive of practice change.  As a result of being engaged by the project, growers reported:  

    • A higher sense of personal responsibility towards improving water quality running out into the Great Barrier Reef
    • Increased confidence that they can contribute to the success of their industry  
    • Increased positive recognition by the general public.
    • Seeing or hearing more positive news stories about their industry. 

    You can hear more from the growers involved in Cane Changer in this video, or by visiting the Cane Changer website.

    Reef Alliance Nutrient Management Plan project

    The Reef Alliance Nutrient Management Plan project saw extension officers work with sugarcane farmers to customised whole-of-farm nutrient management plans (NMPs) in the Wet Tropics. The three-year program was delivered by the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP), an alliance of 17 organisations as part of the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III program.

    The project delivered targeted grants, a series of soil health workshops and one-on-one extension support. This resulted in 297 sugarcane farmers managing 74,092 hectares with confirmed practice change and 325 nutrient management plans produced in the year of 2017 to 2020.

    The project also reported social outcomes. Sugarcane farmer Paul Marbelli applied for financial backing while trialling less than recommended nitrogen rates across his farm over a crop cycle. His nutrient management plan matched very closely to his new lowered application rates, which gave him a lot more confidence that he was on the right track. 

    “Like most land managers I’m trying to find the sweet spot between minimising impacts on the environment and maintaining a sustainable productive farming business,” Paul said.

    For more information on the project, please visit the WTSIP website .

    Reef Alliance – Growing a Great Barrier Reef

    Before (left) and after installation of a sediment trap.

    With funding from the Reef Trust Phase Three Program, the Reef Alliance project aimed to improve water quality across the Great Barrier Reef by enabling landholders to change practices in sugarcane, grazing, dairy, horticulture, bananas, grains and cropping.

    One success story from the project is Boolabah Banana Farms in the South Johnstone catchment who have a long-standing commitment to reducing soil loss from their farm. In 2019, with funding from the Reef Alliance project, they constructed a sediment trap that included the installation of a spillway. The sediment trap captured drainage water after a prolonged rainfall event providing a win-win for the farm and the environment.

    According to Hayden Darveniza, his involvement in this project has been very rewarding: "As a result of this project, I have become a lot more inspired to do more. The silt trap captures only half of the run-off from the farm and when finances become available, I’d be keen to put another trap in to capture sediment from the other half of the farm."

    This factsheet provides more information, including the results of water sampling taken in March 2020.


    Upper Johnstone Integrated Project

    The four-year (2018-22) Upper Johnstone Integrated Project, funded through the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program and led by Terrain Natural Resource Management (Terrain NRM) is a collaboration with local government, industry groups, landholders and Traditional Owners. This project is working with graziers and targeting erosion hotspots in creek and river systems flowing into the Johnstone River. The Upper Johnstone Integrated Project has a large education component, including community workshops and on-farm extension work to better equip landholders to implement practice change.

    Terrain NRM’s Sediment Program leader Jen Mackenzie, highlights key outcomes: “With every workshop we are providing information on ways to sustainably manage the land, helping landholders to interpret scientific principles sitting behind practice changes and getting them in contact with others who might be further along the road than they are”. She also noted that demand had been so high for the project’s initial grazier workshops on soil health and grazing practice changes, that extra sessions were organised. The project has supported re-shaping gullies, fencing off eroded streambank areas, installing off-stream watering points for cattle, revegetation work and weed management - all simple practices to stop early stages of erosion.

    Other social outcomes are being achieved with Ms Mackenzie reporting: “Graziers are telling us they appreciate having a better understanding of the science behind pasture management as it helps them see why they are having good and bad results, and what changes are needed”. This points to increased knowledge but also potential to remove specific practice change barriers.

    For more information on the project, please visit the Terrain NRM website.