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Reducing fertiliser run-off

Working with farmers, we’re improving water quality by reducing fertiliser run-off that ends up in the Reef.

Improving water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon is one of the main ways we have been increasing its resilience to climate change impacts.

Fertiliser run-off results in more crown-of-thorns starfish

There are a number of issues with fertiliser run-off which impact on water quality, and crown-of-thorns starfish is one of them. It eats coral and is a major threat to the Reef. Its numbers have increased significantly over the years because they feed on the algae that are encouraged by nutrients from fertiliser run-off. So we’ve been working with farmers along waterways in Great Barrier Reef catchments to reduce the amount of fertiliser run-off reaching the Reef.

Fertiliser run-off can reach the Reef lagoon leading to algae overgrowth which can cause outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish
Fertiliser run-off can reach the Reef lagoon leading to algae overgrowth which can cause outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

Farmers working with agronomists

Working with agronomists and natural resource managers, farmers are reducing their fertiliser use which saves them money and helps the Reef.

Jayson Dowie and his team from Farmacist are working with cane farmers including the Quagliata family.
Jayson Dowie and his team from Farmacist are working with cane farmers including the Quagliata family.

There are many projects happening across regions where run-off to creeks and rivers leads to the Great Barrier Reef. The Smartcane Best Management Practices (BMP) Program is one example where we are working with farmers on locally created solutions to deliver productivity, profitability and better water quality outcomes. It is an industry-developed, robust and practical voluntary system. Through the Smartcane BMP, growers self-assess their practices to determine if they are ‘below’, ‘at’, or ‘above’ the industry standard. Help is also available through local facilitators, who can assist farm enterprises in becoming independently accredited.

Another example is in the Burdekin region with RP161, where farmers have been able to reduce their fertiliser rates which saves them money, with no effect on their yield. In this project, a group of cane farmers has been working with a leading agronomy firm Farmacist through which Jayson Dowie and his team develop site specific nutrient management plans. In the first year, Jayson has seen great results. “We saved 82 tonnes of nitrogen for the first year growers alone.”

Improving practices in the Wet Tropics

In the Wet Tropics, Terrain NRM and other industry providers have been working with their local farming communities to improve practices that both increase profitability and reduce fertiliser run-off into waterways. During the Major Integrated Project design phase, Terrain NRM, farmers and other landholders have contributed ideas to create solutions that will reduce run-off. The design phase for the project is now complete and on-ground action is about to start.

                        Sweatman, Terrain NRM CEO, is heading up the Major Integrated Project in the
                        Wet Tropics to improve farming practices and therefore water quality for the Reef.
Carol Sweatman, Terrain NRM CEO, is working closely with the banana and cane industry in the Wet Tropics on the Major Integrated Project.

Banana BMP Program

The Banana BMP is a voluntary program. The program helps banana growers to assess current practices and prioritise their time and resources to improve productivity and potentially reduce production costs. It provides a single reference point of information for growers about suggested practices and provides links to relevant resources.

BetterBunch app

The BetterBunch app is a time-saving tool to help banana growers better manage their crops. It records on-farm practices and is being used on more than 3800 hectares of banana farms in North Queensland to complement their BMP.

New technology to help the farmers

Through an innovative change to farming equipment and herbicide use, cane farmers are reducing the use of chemicals and improving the quality of water leaving farms and running into local waterways. The Dual Herbicide Sprayer (PDF) enables growers to decrease weed control costs, specifically target weeds and decrease chemical use, which improves their ability to comply with regulation.

Growers across the Mackay-Whitsunday, Burdekin, Fitzroy and Bundaberg regions will soon have access to sophisticated soil data to improve land use decisions and fertiliser management on their properties. Through the project RP155C, soil data has been collected and is being converted to a database which will give growers access to property scale, web-based soil maps.

You can help to keep our waterways healthy

From the Great Barrier Reef to Moreton Bay, all Queensland waterways are connected. There are things all of us can do to help. For example, avoiding littering, wherever you live, will prevent litter getting into waterways and making its way to the Great Barrier Reef. If you live in reef catchment areas, you can make sure soil and fertiliser stays on your property.

Find more actions on how to help the reef