Current projects

Current projects under the Reef Water Quality Program dedicated to farming communities include:

Current and past science projects from the Reef Water Quality Science Program have and continue to produce a suite of science products that deliver valuable, knowledge-based and practical tools and information for landholders, advisors and government decision-makers.

Read about collaborations with the Reef Water Quality Science Program.

The Reef Water Quality Science Program also collaborates with the Australian Government to deliver Reef Trust 1 Promotion of A-class grazing management practice (Saving our soils). This three year project is delivered on-ground through a partnership between the Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA) and NQ Dry Tropics (NQDT) who are working with graziers in the Fitzroy and Burdekin to enhance their productivity and profitability while reducing their impact on the environment.

RP105G Spatial arrangement and seasonal dynamics of cover in grazing lands

This project will develop metrics and map products for monitoring and reporting changes over time in the patchiness, or spatial arrangement of ground cover and, where possible, land condition. This project builds on ground cover data produced from nearly 30 years of ongoing satellite remote sensing through the Landsat program. Changes in ground cover can provide an indication of grazing land condition affecting both productivity and water quality outcomes in the Reef catchments.

The research

The project is helping to improve the calibration and validation of the ground cover data by collecting new field data and additional land condition observations across key grazing lands of reef catchments.

The project builds on previous work undertaken as part of previous Reef Water Quality Science Program project RP64G Ground cover and fire management in grazing lands.

The primary focus of the project, is on the development of new metrics for quantifying and mapping spatial and temporal patterns in ground cover, and the validation of these metrics with field data.

The project also aims to use the new metrics, along with other environmental data sets to commence the development of a framework and model for the prediction and mapping of grazing land condition.

The outcome

This project will provide access to ground cover data and products derived from the new metrics via open data portals and online services such as FORAGE, VegMachine and the NRM Spatial Hub. This information can help graziers to make more informed grazing land management decisions, and to assist government to target resources and support where they are needed most for improved water quality and sustainable grazing practices.

The project will also help to improve regional ground cover targets and reporting for Reef Plan and other regional plans such as the Water Quality Improvement Plans.

RP112G Mapping soil erodibility in Fitzroy Basin

Improved understanding of sediment sources in the landscape is critical for targeting investment to reduce soil loss and sediment flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. Building on work done in the Burdekin, this project aims to improve the soil dataset used to map erodible soils in grazing lands of the Fitzroy catchment.

The research

Existing landscape and soils data were inadequate to identify areas vulnerable to erosion, at a scale appropriate for decision makers to prioritise investment. The Department of Environment and Science (DES) team will use digital-soils-mapping techniques to develop a dataset of vulnerable soils in the Fitzroy basin, based on soil attributes that drive erosion for the surface and the sub soil. Soil data used for maps will come from existing soil profile observations. Additional sites have been sampled to add to the dataset in areas where there were few existing sites.

The outcome

It is expected by the end of this project three major datasets will be produced providing information on the stability of the surface soil, dispersibility of the subsoil, and overall erosion vulnerability in the Fitzroy catchment.

Soil-specific information will be available to the Fitzroy extension programs to assist in reducing sediment run-off through land management initiatives and an online erodible soils report will be available for landholders in the Fitzroy through FORAGE Portal.

The project will also provide improved soil data to Paddock to Reef and other reef projects for modelling and validation.

Information from this project will also support Best Management Practice Program (BMP), in particular the Soil Health module.

When combined with ground cover and gully mapping this information will help to better understand erosion sources and processes in this catchment, and improve modelling/prediction of water quality impacts.

The project is expected to be completed by October 2017.

RP120C Nutrient use efficiency program

This program encompasses five projects in partnership between the Queensland Government and Sugar Research Australia (SRA) to enhance nitrogen use efficiency on cane farms, improving management practices and protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

The research

The five projects in this program will deliver:

1. Decision support for informed nitrogen management: Soil nitrogen mineralisation tests and assessment of soil N contribution to crop N requirements

Representative surface samples of major soil types of the Mackay, Johnstone, Sarina, Herbert, Proserpine and Bundaberg districts have been selected for long-term (300 day) lab incubation experiments. Results from the incubation experiments will be used to parameterise a two-pool N model (active and slow pools) with the modelled pool sizes related to the soil properties measured.

2. Spatially explicit estimation of Achievable Yield Potential – an improved basis for fertiliser management

This ‘proof of concept’ uses yield monitoring data collected over several years to estimate yield at scales ranging from within-block, through block, farm, sub-region and whole district scales to look at intra-region variation in crop performance.

Using yield monitor pre-processing techniques, the data will be used to generate maps of actual and normalised yield at the block, farm and harvester group scales and calibrated against mill records of block and farm performance

3. Improving NUE for sugarcane crops with constrained yield potential

The project involves a series of small plot field experiments in the Central and Wet Tropics regions to evaluate nitrogen-use efficiency and effectiveness of blocks where cane yield potential may be restricted, for example by poor drainage and harvesting late in the season.

Small plots are being used in the experimental approach instead of strip trials to provide a more rigorous scientific assessment of crop response to N under different soil, water and harvesting constraints. N treatments and irrigation treatments will be applied to understand and quantify the influence of soil water dynamics on crop yield and N uptake.

4. Improving management practices of legume crop residues to maximise economic and environmental benefits

This project will explore novel N-efficient strategies based on precision nutrient management principles. The project will consist of a literature review, three field trials, a laboratory incubation study, economic analyses and communication of project concepts, activities and findings.

Field trials will be conducted in three different major sugarcane cropping regions— Herbert, Burdekin and Bundaberg (one in each region) and will include implementation of treatments and collection of data on soil mineral N (ammonium and nitrate) contents, plant biomass and N uptake, climatic conditions, soil moisture (using moisture probes), farm management practices (irrigation, fertilisation and chemical spray), and biomass/grain/cane/sugar yield at harvest.

The laboratory incubation study will look to understand the interactive effects of legume species, legume residue placement (surface application vs. incorporation to simulate no-till vs. tillage) and treatment of legume residues with different nitrification inhibitors.

Economic (cost/benefit) analyses will take place in the last 6-8 months of the project using the Farm Economic Analysis Tool (FEAT) developed at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Results from this analysis will help identify the most profitable and feasible management strategies for each region.

5. How much N will that crop need? Incorporating climate forecasting to improve nitrogen management in the Wet Tropics

This project will identify an appropriate seasonal climate forecasting system that can reliably predict if the growing season is likely to be wet or dry for the Tully mill area.

It will then make any needed improvements to the Tully mill yield potential forecasting methods and develop statistical methods to downscale the estimate of Tully mill yield potential to smaller management zones.

Optimal amount of nitrogen to apply in wet and dry years will be identified through the development and interrogation of N response curves for common soil types for wet and dry years and high and low yielding crops for a single and multiple N applications in the season.

The outcome

These five projects are expected to refine industry standards for nitrogen use and assist industry to adopt more precise agriculture practices.

Specifically, the project will document how the estimate of soil N mineralisation can be developed into decision support and incorporated into the SIX EASY STEPS guidelines for calculating fertiliser N requirement.

The project will also provide scale-appropriate estimates of yield potential which will be derived from the map analysis using the approach which underpins the SIX EASY STEPS recommendations. This work will support the development of scale-appropriate recommended N rates.

Communication of project concepts, activities and findings will take place through reports, field demonstrations, shed meetings, webinars, brochures, fact sheets, and presentations in workshops and conferences. The results will also be communicated to the developers of the current nutrient management tools such as NutriCalc, SafeGauge and SIX EASY STEPS™ for possible refinement and updating.

A user-friendly legume residue management guideline will also be developed using the 'decision tree' approach.

RP128G Sources of bioavailable particulate nutrients

Understanding the sources of particulate bioavailable nutrients and how they vary with sediment particle size, soil type, erosion process and land use helps to inform management strategies, Paddock to Reef models and prioritisation of investment to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The research

Particulate bioavailable nutrients refer to those nutrients attached to soils and eroded sediment that are immediately available to plants/algae and those that can become available over a specified time in an aquatic environment. To increase our understanding of the sources of these nutrients, in particular nitrogen and phosphorus, a ‘proof of concept study’ was initiated. In Phase 1, a pilot project was conducted to test the concept that the bioavailability of nutrients and their organic forms depends on soil type, erosion process, land use and particle size.

Existing soil fertility assessment methodologies were used to infer nutrient bioavailability in sediments and their parent soils under simulated freshwater and marine conditions. The work was conducted on a limited number of surface and subsurface soil and sediment samples collected from grazing lands, sugarcane, banana and dairy farms in the Wet Tropics, Mackay and Burdekin catchments covering a range of soil types.

Phase 2 of the project is to determine the best indicators of nutrient bioavailability. For this, surface and subsurface soil samples were collected from key soil types for the main land uses and various erodibilities in the Johnstone River and Bowen River sub-catchments. Soils, laboratory-generated fine sediments and sediment sampled from high-flow events were analysed for more than 20 parameters. Some were selected for algal bioassays to determine how algal growth responds to sediments with varying bioavailable nutrient concentrations under fresh water and marine conditions.

Draft reports are currently being finalised.

The outcome

This pilot study completed in phase 1 found that fine sediment tends to be enriched in bioavailable nutrients compared to its source soil. In addition surface soil and sediment tend to be more enriched in bioavailable nutrients than subsurface soil and sediment. Sediments derived from different soil types and land uses vary in bioavailable nutrients. Sediments from grazing lands had the lowest amount of bioavailable nutrients, followed by similar values for cane and bananas and the highest from dairying. The study also showed that eroded sediments are a source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen in both freshwater and marine environments due to continuing mineralisation of particulate organic nitrogen.

Findings so far indicate that the concentration of bioavailable nitrogen and phosphorus in fine sediment was higher in surface soil than sub-surface soil e.g. from gullies, scalds and streambanks. However, the dominant source of these nutrients in a catchment will depend on the amount of sediment or load (as well as the concentration of bioavailable nutrients in the sediment) coming from the sub-surface soils compared to the surface soils. This work reinforces the importance of maintaining a healthy cover of perennial, productive and palatable pastures that protects the surface soil from erosion and hence minimises loss of soil and nutrients to waterways and the GBR.

Phase 2 will determine the best nutrient bioavailability indicators (selected from the range of indicators used in Phase 1) to predict algal and diatom growth in fresh and marine water for use in monitoring and modelling.

RP129C Alternative pesticides – water quality guideline development (for selected high priority pesticides discharged to the Great Barrier Reef)

The aim of the project is to define improved, or new ecological water quality guideline values for a suite of 14 pesticides to be added into the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters.

The research

The key question this project is seeking to answer is whether the information underpinning the ecological water quality guideline values for selected alternative pesticides are accurately represented in national water quality guidelines (Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters).

The project so far has reviewed the existing scientific knowledge to identify pesticides of concern in the Great Barrier Reef regions to prioritise and recommend key pesticides requiring water quality guideline values to be either generated or updated.

A desktop study was conducted to recommend new or updated pesticide guideline values to be incorporated into the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters.

The outcome

The project expects to produce a new or improved national water quality guidelines for emerging high priority pesticides that have been detected in Great Barrier Reef catchment waters.

The project will also identify chemicals that require further ecotoxicological testing where there is a lack of sufficient information in the current literature. This testing will be conducted through a National Environmental Science Program (NESP) project commencing in early 2017.

RP132G Accelerating the use of FORAGE and other complementary tools to support sustainable grazing land practices

This project is designed as a nine-month pilot to identify a pathway for the integration of grazing land management tools into existing extension activities and programs to maximise adoption. It will also inform further work around the integration of new and existing decision support tools into the suite of management practices graziers use and contribute to improvements in productivity, profitability and reductions in sediment. The project will use and build on existing communication channels including the FutureBeef website, grazing BMP website and beef features to increase the awareness of FORAGE and other decision support tools available to grazing industry in nominated reef catchments.

The research

This project will develop a baseline for FORAGE and other grazing land management tools clarifying their benefits, uses, limitations and relationships to each other. It will identify key stakeholders who have used, will use or influence users of these technologies and then commence initial work to build the capacity of key target groups in two key reef catchments, the Burdekin and the Fitzroy Basin. The project will identify and begin integrating these tools into existing extension activities during the pilot period.

The outcome

It is expected this project will deliver:

  • Increased awareness, understanding, and knowledge of FORAGE and other products (e.g. VegMachine, Stocktake Plus, and NRM Spatial Hub) by Queensland Government extension staff, private consultants, agribusiness, natural resource management group staff and graziers. This will contribute to the longer term outcome of improved land condition, pasture growth and water quality.
  • Increased skills in, and use of, FORAGE and other products by Queensland Government extension staff, private providers, agribusiness, natural resource management group staff and graziers to support improved grazing land management practices and decision making.
  • Further investment into projects to expand this pilot more broadly and lift capacity and integration of other Reef Water Quality science projects.

RP140B Economic assessment of Banana Best Management Practice (BMP)

This project aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the economic implications of Banana best management practice (BMP) guidelines.

The project will assist banana growers in the Wet Tropics to identify improved business practices that boost returns as well as benefit water quality in the Great Barrier Reef and reduce biosecurity risks.

The research

The project commenced in 2016. A team of Agricultural Economists in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries completed a synthesis report which provided an overview of the Wet Tropics Banana industry’s business environment.

The next phase of the project includes a series of economic case studies of banana growers that have adopted the Banana BMP.  The case studies provide specific insights into these growers’ real experiences and economic outcomes of adopting BMP practices. Following the case studies, banana growers will be surveyed to inform a regionally representative economic analysis and water quality model which will integrate the economic and environmental information to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of management practices. From this work a technical report has been produced.

The outcome

This project will assist growers to identify practices they may want to implement first, in particular practices that improve profitability, water quality and quarantine outcomes. It will also inform policy makers which practices are the most cost-effective for prioritisation of investment and implementation.

RP143C Quantifying residual soil nitrogen in sugarcane beds in the Burdekin

A previous project using Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring (RTWQM) conducted in a sub-catchment in the Burdekin (RP85C and RP102C) identified relatively large fluxes of nitrate that moved off-farm via run-off from rainfall events. These rainfall events occurred several months after fertiliser was applied, by which time it would generally be assumed that most fertiliser applied nitrogen would have either been taken up by the crops or lost from the farm.

The research

This project will answer the following key questions that have been prompted by RTWQM results:

  • Do quantities of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) accumulate in the soil beds above the height of irrigation water in furrows?
  • How is this accumulation varying with the following factors:
    • hydrology (irrigation vs. simulated rainfall events)
    • simulated rainfall volume and intensity
  • How is the presence of DIN reflected in water quality leaving the farm?

The project will involve regular sampling of the bed profile cross section, separating the samples in sections through the bed profile to analyse for nitrogen over the course of the project. The project will also measure and analyse run-off water to determine flux.

Rainfall simulators will be used to control rainfall intensity during simulated rainfall events, while rain exclusion shelters will be constructed to control extended no rain periods.

The project will cover a farming system in a major soil type and be replicated on the farming system.

The outcome

The project will provide a better understanding of factors affecting nitrogen loss in run-off driven by irrigation and rainfall events, and the risk for nitrogen loss in run-off from mobile nitrogen forms in the upper layers of the soil beds in a furrow irrigated cane growing system.

Better information about nitrogen loss processes and influences will provide information about how management practice approaches can be implemented to further reduce nitrogen losses.

RP152P Griffith University cost-effective restoration of wetlands that protect GBR

This project was awarded an Advance Queensland Research Fellowship, and is supported by Griffith University, the Queensland Wetland Program and Reef Water Quality (DES).

The project aims to determine the most cost-effective wetlands to restore on the basis of their capacity to retain terrestrially derived pollutants and provide additional ecosystem services such as carbon storage.

The research

The project will start with the selection of representative wetlands for where further data is needed. Field and laboratory experiments will be conducted on different types of wetlands to determine nutrient assimilation and suspended sediment retention. Sediment retention will be measured by obtaining 1m-sediment cores.

Carbon storage will be estimated by measuring plant biomass and soil C from sediment cores.

With the information obtained from the experiments, the wetlands will be ranked on their importance to retain pollution and to store carbon within a basin. These will be considered ‘benefits’ for restoring such wetlands. Additionally, the ‘cost’ of restoration will be incorporated on the basis of accessibility, degradation of the land and willingness of the community to participate.

The outcome

The expected outcome for this project is to be able to determine the most cost-effective wetlands to restore.

RP155C Sub-soil constraints mapping to inform nutrient management in cropping industries

The project will deliver fine-scale web-based soil maps for key cropping areas in the reef catchments. The project aims to provide tools that can assist mills, extension officers, agronomists, NRM groups and growers to improve and support property scale identification of physical or chemical barriers that restrict root and plant growth and therefore productivity (sub-soil constraints). This will help to inform soil and nutrient management in cropping lands.

The research

Working with Farmacist, the project will use disaggregated spatial soil data and long term cane yield data at the property and production unit scale in the Mackay Whitsunday region to demonstrate the application of the ‘property nutrient management plan’ concept for improving nitrogen use efficiency.

The project will map soil attributes at 6 defined depth intervals. The soil attributes will be estimated either across the entire profile or just as a single value for the profile.

The project will also run a case study of the ‘property nutrient management plan’ concept to demonstrates how property yield maps, fine-scale sub-soil constraints mapping outputs and the SIX EASY STEPS management package can inform nutrient use efficiency at property scales to deliver economic, productivity and water quality benefits.

The outcome

A key outcome is to raise awareness of the data’s availability and develop capacity to understand how this data can be used to manage for site specific soil constraints. The project will assist growers in achieving improved nutrient and practice management by enabling them to match their specific site and soil’s needs. In this way, Project RP155C aims to achieve productivity, profitability and environmental goals.

It is expected that the integrated use of production unit yield potential with soil and landscape characteristics to inform nutrient management strategies will also provide a practical best management practice for improving N use efficiency at production unit scale.

RP161C Complete Nutrient Management Planning for Cane Farming

This project will build on the excellent results achieved through RP20C Burdekin Nitrogen Project and work with farmers to adjust their nitrogen rates in line with industry standard, SIX EASY STEPS without compromising their productivity and profitability.

Running in the Burdekin region since June 2016 with Queensland Government funding, this project will continue to run until 2022 and expand to other Reef catchments with additional funding provided by the Australian and Queensland Government.

The research

Department of Environment and Science (DES), in partnership with Sugar Research Australia, is working with Farmacist, a locally trusted agronomy provider in the Burdekin, to deliver this project to up to 210 farms across five years, from 1 July 2016.

Running in the Burdekin region since June 2016 with Queensland Government funding, this project will continue to run until 2022 and expand to other Reef catchments with additional funding provided by the Australian and Queensland Government.

On farm help involves $6,000 worth of agronomy with personalised one-on-one extension with farm visits from Farmacist agronomists to provide services including whole-of-farm and tailored nutrient management planning, fertiliser box calibrations and farm decision support. In addition, the team will also address irrigation and weed management, if these are an issue on particular farms.

SRA will conduct SIX EASY STEPS courses for participants.

The outcome

Expected outcomes include a significant increase in the amount of fertiliser taken up by the crop, and a reduction in excess fertiliser application, thereby reducing nitrogen losses, including run-off to local waterways.

For more information or to get involved in the project, please contact the Burdekin Farmacist office on 07 4782 2300 or visit

RP163C Protecting our chemicals for the future though accelerated adoption of best management practice

This three year project aims to demonstrate pesticide management practice improvement and subsequent reduction of pesticide movement off-farm growers in the Wet Tropics using rainfall simulation trials and water quality sampling. The project incorporates behavioural surveying at regular intervals to evaluate practice change adoption amongst growers engaged across the Tully, Mulgrave and Innisfail/Babinda sugar production areas.

The research

The project involves Sugar Research Australia staff and productivity service organisation staff with specialist project personnel. This is to allow the development of technical capability through mentoring and specific training in the areas of water quality assessment, extension methodology, weed management and the interaction between approaches to weed management and water quality outcomes.

Groups of growers will be engaged each year in participative action learning groups, with engagements occurring during June and December to demonstrate best practices in relation to residual and knockdown use with the objective of increasing the adoption of improved pesticide management.

In January and May the project will work specifically with growers who have purchased spray equipment such as shields and hoods to "get it out of the shed and into the field" by optimising performance and demonstrating use on farm.

The project has managed to engage more Tully, Mulgrave and Innisfail/Babinda growers than the target set for the first year. Strategies to refine and enhance the extension approach used in each catchment are now being considered by the project team.

The outcome

It is expected this project will see significant growth in the capacity and capability of the participating Productivity Service Organisations in effective and sustainable weed and insect management and its relationship to water quality outcomes.

The project also expects that water quality will improve through the adoption of best management practices with weed management such as the use of shields and band spraying equipment.

RP164C Farmers for the future

This project provides a small amount of funding to Home Hill State School located in Ayr, Queensland, to support the school’s agronomy program aimed at educating students about farming operations and reducing impacts on water quality. This will help cement their resolve as future stakeholders of the region, to improve farm management systems.

The research

This project covers a broad range of students across many age groups.

Junior secondary students are exposed to agricultural processes through hands-on access to planting and harvesting crops. Aspects of crop care including fertilisers, pesticide and water usage are discussed as well as the problem of pollutants in the run-off from cropping.

A regular feature of the curriculum is the ‘Cane to Coast’ unit of work which has students examining maps and zoning; using probes and sensors; and more comprehensively understanding the toxicity of poisons used for agricultural purposes.

The school will use the funding provided by the Reef Water Quality Science Program to purchase equipment such as microscopes, probes, sensors and test kits along with other items used for chemical analysis as well as resources such as maps, posters, videos and human resources including guest speakers. The project will also allow for equipment such as pumps and trickle irrigation equipment to set up on-site cropping plots including nutrient and pest management supplies.

The outcome

Through the school curriculum the project will deliver the important message of connecting sustainable farming to the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Attitudinal change towards a range of practices involved with agricultural production systems are expected.

RP166C Enhanced efficiency fertiliser deep drainage monitoring for ‘Smart blended use of enhanced efficiency fertilisers to maximise profitability’ - Rural R&D for profit project

In this collaborative project, DES is funding in-crop soil profile sampling events to monitor downward movement of nitrogen fertiliser under different management practices.

The research

The project will assess the potential of blending commercially available controlled release fertiliser and conventional urea as an effective agronomic and economic solution to better synchronise N supply with crop uptake. The optimum blending ratios of different fertiliser types in relation to soil properties, economics, seasonal conditions and other management practices will be investigated.

The inclusion of deep drainage N monitoring in the project’s fertiliser trials will help assess and compare the leaching losses of fertiliser N in the field under different enhanced efficiency fertiliser blends.

The project will include field trials in a randomised block design. Plant samples and soil samples will be taken and analysed throughout the cropping season. Field trial locations will be Innisfail, Tully, Ingham, Mackay and Bundaberg.

Deep soil profile sampling will take soil samples to 100-120 cm depth at the beginning, middle and end of the trials to compare mineral N accumulation in the profile under different fertilisation practices.

The outcome

It is anticipated that the project results will be able to provide decision support to growers for fertiliser product selection to maximise profit and have a better environmental impact.

RP167C Sandy Creek – on-farm change for water quality improvement

The project will monitor sub-catchment water quality to link farm practice to in-stream water quality and direct extension activities to sub-catchments where water quality exceeds guidelines. The project is to be conducted in the Sandy Creek catchment in the Mackay Whitsundays NRM region.

The research

The project is a collaboration of scientists from Department of Environment and Science (DES), extension services provided by Mackay Area Productivity Services (MAPS) and Farmacist and social scientists from Social Marketing @ Griffith working with growers.

Griffith University will assist DESMAPS and Farmacist to develop and implement strategies tailored to motivate different grower groups. Recommendations will be provided to guide events and communication materials and analyse the barriers to management practice change and development of strategies to overcome these barriers.

The outcome

Over the three years, the project is expected to deliver grower ownership of water quality in Sandy Creek by providing water quality data to growers and demonstrate profitable practices having a positive impact on water quality to the grower through the farm block trials.

The project will also identify barriers to practice change and develop strategies to overcome the barriers and will communicate positive outcomes to the wider grower community.

RP169C Connecting cane farmers to local wetlands

The project will demonstrate that farming profit, productivity and environmental benefits can result from practice change. A range of methods will be trialled to increase cane grower adoption of farm management practices that improve the ecological function of coastal wetlands and reef water quality.

The project will be based at two demonstration sites, Horseshoe Lagoon (representing the Burdekin River Irrigation Area) and Lilliesmere Lagoon (representing the Delta Area). The sites are downstream of agricultural lands. The legacy of the project will be practice change engagement and water quality evaluation models that can then be applied to a wider audience and to other locations.

Natural resource management group NQ Dry Tropics will lead the project with its on-ground project partner Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee (BBIFMAC).

The research

The project will combine on-farm water quality and quantity monitoring and extension and wetland system monitoring within a ‘feedback-engagement-reinforcement’ strategy to define the engagement practice change. The strategy will increase capacity to change through providing one-on-one engagement with farmers and timely feedback about the quantity and quality of water leaving their farms.

The on-ground component of the project will result in improved quality of water leaving farms, entering the demonstration site wetlands, and then flowing through the Ramsar-listed wetlands of Bowling Green Bay into the Great Barrier Reef.

The outcome

It is expected that this project will contribute to the reduction in nutrients and pesticide loads generated from cane farms through the implementation of practice changes on 14 properties in the demonstration site wetlands.

Further, it is expected that this project will increase adoption of sustainable farming practices that maintain profitability and productivity while improving water quality for wetlands, downstream areas and the Great Barrier Reef.

RP173G Cost-effective management to improve land condition

This project seeks to understand how graziers in the Fitzroy can improve management particularly in drought times to reduce sediment run-off leaving their properties through improvements in land condition. It aims to determine the actions, associated costs and the trigger points for the decision to act and change management or remediate.

The research

The Central Queensland University project team will work with 40 Fitzroy graziers to come up with the economic impacts of various levels of intervention in an easy to understand form while providing linkages between weather risk management, stocking rates, land condition and capacity to mitigate areas of low ground cover, early gullies and scalds.

The project will also identify properties where there has been better than expected ground cover and look to understand what management changes were made relative to cover and rainfall.

The outcome

Some expected outcomes from this project include improved guidance for extension advisers and landholders on the economic implications of improving land condition, information which can be integrated into the Grazing BMP modules, the Scientific Consensus Statement and Reef Plan water quality risk frameworks.

This work will provide information to demonstrate how a grazier would prepare and manage for drought and improve land condition across the Fitzroy e.g. on pasture utilisation and stocking rates applied to identify key decision points including when to turn off cattle. The project will also provide an improved understanding of land management practices that recover land condition in an economically feasible manner and the decision threshold to do something about it.

RP209H Burnett Mary Horticulture 1-on-1—Delivering Tailored Solutions

This project will help horticulture growers adopt best farming practices and reduce the run-off pollutants entering the reef and is based on previous on-ground projects within Burnett-Mary around productivity, yield sustainability and reef water quality.

The project will give growers the tools to improve productivity while minimising sediment and nutrient loss; including detailed farm mapping, soil analysis and agronomic advice. The project will focus on macadamia, avocado and sweet potato growers in the Burnett, Mary and Burrum sub-catchments.

Verterra will work collaboratively with local agronomic advisors alongside Growcom Hort360 benchmarking of best management practice and apply precision farming technologies to deliver outcomes for farm productivity and Reef water quality.

The research

This program addresses the priorities of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan and is aligned with the Reef 2050 Water Quality Research, Development and Innovation Strategy 2017-2022 (PDF, 1.4MB) strategy, by delivering high-quality extension to support adoption of Best Management Practices in tree and horticulture crops in the Burnett-Mary Natural Resource Management Region.

Best practice management will target holistic farm management practices to reduce DIN, fine sediment, particulate nutrients and pesticides.

Extension advice will be supported by evidence-based comparative sites that will engage with the horticultural community through action research informed by digital soil and crop assessment, soil science, plant nutrition and spatial mapping for site-specific management.

The outcome

The program will support adoption of best practice management through one-on-one extension advice to tree and seasonal horticultural crop producers.