The 2018 Project Catalyst Forum has attracted more than 150 sugar cane growers from partner regions of the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday, to network with researchers, program partners and industry groups, and share knowledge and new ideas.

The two-day forum, held at the Mercure, Townsville, saw speakers and group discussions evaluate emerging cutting-edge sustainability practices to improve water quality for the Great Barrier Reef, as well as increase farm profitability.

Since 2009 Project Catalyst has facilitated hundreds of grower-led trials and encouraged more than 130 cane farmers to adopt higher standards for themselves through innovative nutrient application methods, soil health improvements and water quality enhancements.

NQ Dry Tropics, as the peak natural resource management body in the Burdekin Dry Tropics region, works closely with Burdekin agronomic solutions providers and cane growers to deliver regional priorities for nitrogen and irrigation efficiency.  

NQ Dry Tropics Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager Rob Hunt said the forum was the main networking opportunity for local cane farmers.

“It brings growers, extension staff, researchers and investors together to discuss progress, share ideas, and map out future directions for cane innovation to improve farming practices and protect Reef water quality,” Mr Hunt said.

“The event highlights a selection of projects from each of the Project Catalyst regions with participating cane farmers sharing background information and learnings to their peers.  

“Burdekin cane growers are at the forefront investigating a range of innovative practices such as nitrogen release patterns from legume crops, branded mill mud, efficient nitrogen use, water quality, groundwater and pesticide monitoring and alternate row irrigation,” he said.

Burdekin grower Frank Mugica said the forum opened a window on people’s lives and reminded growers that they are innovative, competitive and part of an industry that’s moving and adapting.  Mr Mugica was a key speaker at this year’s forum and spoke about farm succession.

“The future of farming rests with my two daughters so I have been inspired to look at farm management from a different perspective,” Mr Mugica said.

“It’s important to constantly look into emerging technologies and management practices to improve social, environmental, and economic outcomes for the farm, but to ensure this was shaped by inspired ideas being conceptualised by the younger generation, including women,” he said.

Mr Hunt said Project Catalyst would continue to play a significant role in developing and progressing cutting-edge sustainability practices, with benefits being shared across the industry.

Main photos:

  • [TL] – Burdekin cane grower Frank Mugica  presented at this year’s Project Catalyst Forum.  He is pictured with wife Caron Mugica and daughters Alaya (7) and Ellyana (11).
  • [TR] – Burdekin cane growers Joe Linton, Denis Pozzebon and Mark Vass.
  • [BL] –  Burdekin cane growers Tom Pontarelli, Robert Stockham and NQ Dry Tropics Sugarcane project officer Shakira Todd.
  • [BR] – NQ Dry Tropics Sustainable Agriculture Program Manager Rob Hunt and NQ Dry Tropics Chairman Les Tyrell.