The Department of Environment and Science (the department) assesses compliance with the Reef protection regulations. The regulations include Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity standards for sugarcane cultivation, banana cultivation and beef cattle grazing. The Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity standards are often referred to as ‘minimum practice standards’, including as an action under the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.
The department’s approach is to work with agricultural producers and industry to provide information about the Reef protection regulation requirements, ways to achieve voluntary compliance and identify whether the requirements are being met.
How are compliance visits planned?
Agricultural officers from the Reef Compliance and Regulation team within the department will visit properties across all river basins, with a focus on those basins identified as the highest risk to Reef water quality. These high priority areas are identified in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (PDF, 3.61MB).
The Reef Compliance and Regulation team use a range of tools to prioritise high risk areas for visits on a quarterly basis. These tools include remote sensing applications.
Agricultural officers will contact landowners, managers, graziers and farmers when a visit is planned. It is at this time that landowners can let the department know if the property is leased or farmed by another producer or is being used for another purpose.
Who are agricultural officers?
An agricultural officer is an authorised government employee who conducts Reef compliance visits, assessments and investigations to ensure compliance with Queensland’s environmental laws.
Agricultural officers can be identified by their authorised officer card or can produce it upon request to confirm they are authorised by the Queensland Government to undertake compliance visits on a property.
An agricultural officer is an Authorised Person under the Act and has the powers to:
- enter and inspect a commercial agricultural property in the Reef catchments areas
- take photos and ask the producer for records
- ask for all relevant information related to the Reef protection regulations
- collect samples including soil or water samples
- take any equipment or person needed onto the property to conduct the inspection.
Agricultural officers can legally request and take copies of farm records as part of the compliance visit. They take their information security and privacy obligations very seriously and will only review those records required under the Reef regulations.
What happens if there is a major event? Will compliance visits proceed?
The department will consider unforeseen events such as natural disasters, biosecurity incidents (such as Panama disease and others) as part of its compliance program planning.
The Reef Compliance and Regulation team assess any planned compliance visits on a case-by-case basis during and immediately after declared natural disasters. These natural disasters include events such as drought, fire, and flood events.
Are agricultural producers involved in accreditation programs and acknowledged projects visited?
Agricultural producers who are accredited and continue to meet their accreditation requirements will meet the standard conditions in the Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity standards. These producers are seen as a low priority for compliance visits.
Several additional projects that have been evaluated as acknowledged practice change projects by the department. Producers participating in these programs are also a low priority for compliance visits.
Visit the Recognised programs and acknowledged projects page for more information.
If you are a producer taking part in a recognised accreditation program or acknowledged project, you can agree to provide your contact details to the department. This will allow your property to be considered a low priority for a compliance visit.
Producers who do not provide their contact details to the department may be contacted about a compliance visit.
What will a compliance visit involve?
Producers are asked to familiarise themselves with the standard conditions in the Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity standards, even if they believe they are already meeting them. Keeping up to date helps producers to ensure current operations or any planned changes to operations meet the activity and record-keeping requirements under their specific agricultural environmentally relevant activity (ERA).
Agricultural officers will meet with producers to review the requirements under the standard conditions (or permit for commercial cropping and horticulture) and assess if the producer meets these requirements.
Agricultural officers will:
- outline what records must be kept to comply with the legislation
- review records associated with the activity
- review farm practices against the conditions of the standard conditions for the commodity or the conditions of the permit
- advise the producer of any changes that need to be made to meet the regulations.
The usual steps for a compliance visit are:
- producers will receive a letter from the Reef Compliance and Regulation team to arrange a suitable time for the visit
- agricultural officers will follow any farm hygiene and/or biosecurity protocols (producers must notify the agricultural officer of any hygiene and biosecurity requirements for their property before the visit)
- producers may choose to send their records electronically via email for review before the visit to save time
- during the meeting, agricultural officers may ask to inspect areas of the farm regarding erosion and sediment control measures implemented and may take photos of the measures and records
- agricultural officers will review the farm operations against the standard conditions or permit conditions, including record-keeping, fertiliser application, and on-site erosion and sediment controls
- following the visit, a letter with the outcome and identifying any areas that that do not meet the regulations will be sent to the producer
- if any areas are identified as not meeting the regulations, at the first visit, producers will be given the chance to put in place measures to meet the regulations. A follow up visit will be arranged at an appropriate time in the future to assess if the necessary practice changes have been made.
What if I don’t comply?
An enforcement response may be taken if there are ongoing non-compliances after the first compliance visit.
There are a range of enforcement tools available from warning and direction notices, penalty infringement notice (fines) to court prosecution.
Maximum penalties are generally reserved for the most serious examples of non-compliance and are applied by a court of law. The court will determine an appropriate penalty, and this depends on the circumstances of any non-compliance. Penalties are not automatically imposed.
For more information, please refer to the Department of Environment and Science compliance and enforcement page.
Can producers refuse a compliance visit?
The department aims to work with producers to seek agreement to enter the property, pre-arrange the meeting at a mutually agreed time and inspect properties with the producer.
There may be occasions, however, where the producer cannot be contacted or where an environmental incident has been reported by a member of the community. In these circumstances, an agricultural officer may need to enter a farm to investigate without prior notice. The cooperation of producers will help to resolve any issues as quickly as possible.
Producers are reminded agricultural officers are authorised under the Act to enter agricultural properties in Reef catchments and carry out compliance visits. Under the Act, it is an offence to prevent officers from undertaking these activities and penalties apply.
For banana producers
Key focus areas for banana compliance visits are the Johnstone and Tully River basins.
For sugarcane producers
Sugarcane producers must comply with the minimum practice conditions set out in the Agricultural ERA Standard for sugarcane cultivation .
Key focus areas for sugarcane compliance visits are the Proserpine, Plane, O’Connell, Haughton and Pioneer River basins; followed by the Mossman, Daintree, Mulgrave-Russell, Herbert, and Burdekin River basins.
Key focus areas for grazing compliance visits are the Burdekin region, Fitzroy, and from 1 December 2022, the Herbert and Mary River basins; followed by the Johnstone, O’Connell and Burnett River basins.
Where do I find more information?
A printed information kit is available on request by completing the information request form.
The records checklist will help producers ensure they have the required records for a compliance visit.
Producers may also contact the department via email at ESReef@des.qld.gov.au if they have farm-specific queries about how to comply with the regulations.
More information about the department’s approach to compliance and the results achieved to date is available on a dashboard.