New program to support Burdekin cane farmers to improve productivity and reef water quality

A $20.4 million program to support cane farmers to improve management practices while improving the quality of water flowing into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon has started rolling out in the lower Burdekin.

NQ Dry Tropics is overseeing the four-year Lower Burdekin Regional Water Quality Program, in partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

It is working with regional partners to coordinate the delivery of sustainable irrigation, nutrient and pesticide management practices to achieve water quality targets.

NQ Dry Tropics Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager Rob Hunt

NQ Dry Tropics’ Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager Rob Hunt said involving local service providers in the design, planning and delivery of the regional program ensured maximum support and adoption.

“The projects will improve farm production and profitability while collectively contributing to the water quality targets defined in the Reef 2050 Plan.  Opportunities include support to deliver irrigation, nutrient and pesticide management improvements and wetland treatment systems,” Mr Hunt said.

“They have been designed to link in with existing and new initiatives to maximise the overall benefits to production and profitability while minimising off-farm environmental and water quality impacts.

“The program aims to improve reef water quality by reducing annual dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) loads by 48 tonnes, and pesticides by 35 kilograms at the end of catchment.”

The regional partnership includes NQ Dry Tropics, Sugar Research Australia (SRA), Farmacist, Greening Australia and Green Collar.

More than $6.8 million has been allocated to Sugar Research Australia (SRA) to roll out irrigation improvement projects and a water quality monitoring program, and agronomic solutions provider Farmacist has been allocated $3.2 million towards nutrient management and $2.4 million to support pesticide management improvements.

Greening Australia has been allocated for approximately $2 million to construct wetland treatment systems in the Burdekin which will further improve water quality leaving Burdekin cane farms.

An innovative project to support the purchase of $500,000 worth of Reef Credits is also being considered. This market-based approach is intended to provide landholders with financial returns for improving water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

Mr Hunt said $1.5 million had been earmarked for incentives to support participating farmers to adopt practices that will make a significant contribution to regional water quality targets.

“NQ Dry Tropics has been contracted for four years to coordinate the whole Burdekin region program which includes leading program design, overseeing on-ground projects delivered by service providers, detailed monitoring, evaluation and reporting of program delivery,” Mr Hunt said.

The Lower Burdekin Regional Water Quality Program is part of a $201 million investment funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, to address water quality improvement targets impacting the Great Barrier Reef.