New funding package worth $11.8 million to support cane farmers and the Reef

Burdekin and Wet Tropics sugar cane farmers can bid for funding of up to $500,000 to reduce nitrogen levels in water leaving their farms and entering the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.

The Australian Government has made up to $11.8 million available through Phase IV of the  $210 million Reef Trust, which aims to reduce runoff from sugar cane land by helping farmers better match fertiliser application to crop requirements.

Last year’s successful Burdekin pilot tender saw farmers bid for a total of $2.84 million, and NQ Dry Tropics has again been appointed to support Burdekin farmers through the bidding process.

NQ Dry Tropics CEO, Dr Scott Crawford, said that this was a great opportunity for farmers to build upon the success of last year’s Reef Trust tender program.

“NQ Dry Tropics sees the reef tender as a great opportunity to continue the good work that the Burdekin sugar cane industry has already achieved in improving the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“Sugar cane farmers will have the chance to implement on-farm nitrogen reduction or irrigation improvements that they may have been thinking about for some time, which improve water quality entering the reef lagoon,” he said.

The Reef Trust competitive tender is an innovative way to encourage sugar cane farmers to put a price on the cost of improving their nitrogen and irrigation management practices. Farmers design their own projects and, if successful, are offered grant funding for the total cost of their project.

Interested farmers are invited to bid for funding through a number of competitive reverse tenders conducted over a number of years. Funds will be allocated to successful bidders offering the best value-for-money reduction.

The first tender will open in early 2017. The application period is 6 February – 6 March 2017 (closes 2pm), with expressions of interest to be submitted between 23 January – 13 February (closes 2pm).

Dr Crawford said that NQ Dry Tropics would ensure that farmers hear about the opportunity and have the information they need to make a decision to submit an expression of interest and tender bid.

“NQ Dry Tropics is committed to making this project a success. We have been working closely with the Department of the Environment and Energy to provide information and tools farmers will need to develop an informed bid for their proposed project,” he said.

Burdekin cane farmer Mark Vass successfully applied for a grant under the first Burdekin Reef Trust tender process. He has been trialling a range of measures to reduce his nitrogen application  by boosting the health and organic nitrogen levels of his soil. These include producing farm-cultivated biofertiliser, and introducing multi-species cover crop systems over an extended fallow period. He has also worked to reduce irrigation levels.

He said that the tender process was a lot easier than it looked, especially with the guidance available from NQ Dry Tropics:

“I think some farmers who aren’t good record keepers can be put off by the application process, but all you need is your fertiliser receipts – anyone can do that,” he said.

NQ Dry Tropics will host two information sessions on the 23 January and 6 February 2017 at Ayr Showgrounds Main Hall. Interested growers are invited to attend. For information about the tender and the information sessions, go to http://www.nqdrytropics.com.au/reef-trust-repeated-tenders-burdekin/,  email burdekintender@nqdrytropics.com.au or phone 1800 504 699.

Main photo: Burdekin cane farmer Mark Vass successfully applied for a grant under the first Burdekin Reef Trust tender process.