Connecting Burdekin Cane Farmers to their local wetlands
NQ Dry Tropics worked with our project partner Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee Inc. (BBIFMAC) to combine on-farm water quality and quantity monitoring and extension with wetland monitoring. The project aimed to improve the health of the lagoons while improving cane farmers’ productivity and profit.
It was based at two demonstration sites, Horseshoe Lagoon, in the Burdekin River Irrigation Area and Lilliesmere Lagoon, in the Burdekin Delta Area. Both sites are downstream of cane farms and upstream of the internationally-renowned wetlands of Bowling Green Bay, and the Great Barrier Reef.
Healthy wetlands provide important ecosystem services such as slowing down and spreading out flood waters, reducing soil erosion during floods, as well as trapping sediment, nutrients and other pollutants before they reach the coast. They also provide habitat for wildlife and are great for fishing, boating and bird watching.
This project worked with cane farmers to provide information about irrigation and nutrient practices using real time monitoring, interpretation of the results and advice from the BBIFMAC field staff. Participants used their farm specific information to identify areas where they could gain efficiencies in their farming systems. Specialist agronomist advice was available to each farmer to provide detailed information about what types of changes suit their farm and how best to achieve them.
Alongside the farm monitoring, wetland monitoring was undertaken by JCU’s TropWATER team – it first established the current condition of the wetland and then measured changes in the lagoons. This was a unique component of the project as it showed how the farms, wetlands and downstream areas are connected and provided real data back to the farmers. Information about Horseshoe and Lilliesmere lagoons was also shared with the wider community so everyone has a better understanding of any changes, about ways to look after wetlands and the important role that farmers have in protecting them while improving their practices on farm.
The legacy of the project is practice change engagement and water quality evaluation models that can be applied to a wider audience and to other locations.