A major finding of the 2015 Wet Tropics Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) was that, even if every single farmer in the region adopted current best practice, the region would not meet essential water quality targets set by the Reef 2050 Plan.
Carole Sweatman, CEO of Terrain NRM, the Wet Tropics natural resource management body responsible for developing the plan, said, “This finding was very significant since it made it clear to us that despite all the good work going on in the region to improve water quality it is not rapid or widespread enough to meet the targets.
“Therefore, developing new agricultural practices for the future has to be an important priority for the Wet Tropics.”
Terrain has been working with farmers throughout the Wet Tropics for several years. The organisation has delivered the Australian Government’s Reef Programme as well as a range of other water quality initiatives including its Innovation in Agriculture program, which supports farmers in the region to trial new practices.
“There are some outstanding farmers in this region doing amazing work and their continuing innovation will be critical to our ability to meet these ambitious Reef targets so we are committed to supporting them as much as we can,” she said.
Many Wet Tropics farmers are blending cutting edge technologies with traditional farming methods to improve efficiencies in pesticide and nutrient use.
Leading cane farmer Mario Raccanello is one example. He is trialling bio-fertiliser on his 370 hectare farm near Tully and is so convinced by the approach that he is applying it to his whole farm before the trial is even completed. His first crop showed promise with no loss in production despite a 50 per cent reduction in fertiliser.
Mario’s motivation to start manufacturing his own biofertilisers was spurred on by mounting artificial fertiliser costs. Decades of applying fertilisers has caused soils to become so depleted that more and more chemicals need to be applied, making many farming businesses unsustainable.
Biofertilisers have the potential to cut costs dramatically while also being beneficial to the environment and the Reef (as well as consumers).
Carole said farmers are great innovators and Terrain is always looking for ways to support trials and validate new practices.
“Innovation is risky so these farmers need support because they are trailblazing for the rest of the industry. Programs such as CANEGROWERS SmartCane BMP are all about continuous improvement and we want to provide the right support to exploring new ideas.
“Since one of our biggest challenges is to quantify and broadcast the results of new practices being developed, the Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership will be an excellent way to promote all of the great stories of successful innovation already occurring in our region and how they’re contributing to reef health,” she said.