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Sugarcane

Why are regulations required for sugarcane production?

Rainfall, leaching and irrigation run-off can wash nutrients and sediment into waterways and coastal wetlands which flow to the Great Barrier Reef.

The minimum practice agricultural standards for sugarcane production focus on retaining nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment on-farm to minimise run-off and improve water quality.

The Queensland Government has made a commitment that the minimum practice agricultural standards will remain substantially unchanged for the next five years.

What are the requirements for sugarcane producers?

Under the regulations, all sugarcane producers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions are required to:

  • keep general records
  • comply with minimum practice agricultural standards as this requirement is applied to each region over the next three years
  • implement a farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget as this requirement is applied to each region over the next three years from 2021
  • obtain an environmental authority (permit) if commencing new or expanding commercial cropping or horticulture activities on five hectares or more of land that does not have a cropping history in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions from 1 June 2021.

A cropping history is when the land has been used for cropping or horticulture activities during three out of the last 10 years.

Why is the Cape York region excluded from most of the requirements?

Most of the requirements do not apply to existing producers in the Cape York region as the region has met its water quality targets.

However, from 1 June 2021, any new or expanding commercial cropping and horticulture activities in the Cape York region on five hectares or more of land that does not have a cropping history will require an environmental authority (permit) before the activity or any work takes place.

What records do I need to keep?

All sugarcane producers are required to keep general records now. Minimum standard records and farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget records will be required as these requirements are rolled out across each region.

Records can be in any format but must be made within three business days, kept for at least six years and be available when requested by an authorised person such as a compliance officer.

Records need to be kept to demonstrate activities are being undertaken on the property in accordance with the minimum agricultural practice standards.

The government has committed to not commencing the regulation to acquire specific agricultural data from the broader agricultural sector, such as data about fertiliser and chemical use, soil testing and crop yield.

For a full description of the record keeping requirements for sugarcane producers please refer to the Agricultural ERA standard for sugarcane cultivation (PDF, 1.4 MB) .

General records

For sugarcane producers, general records must include:

  • name of the sugarcane producer (i.e. the person(s) carrying out the activity)
  • name of person making the record
  • company name (if applicable)
  • property address/es
  • postal address
  • farm identification number/s (if applicable)
  • a list of the lots included in all the farms within the agricultural enterprise
  • records of agricultural chemicals (any pesticide, herbicide or fungicide applied to land or crops), fertiliser and mill mud/mill ash applied and specifically:
    • location of each application (e.g. farm number with block name or management zone)
    • date of each application
    • agricultural chemical (any pesticide, herbicide or fungicide applied to land or crops) and/or fertiliser product (including mill mud/mill ash) applied to each location with product name, application rate (kg/ha, L/ha or tonnes/ha for mill mud/mill ash) and for fertiliser products, the percentage of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Minimum standard records

For sugarcane producers, minimum standard records must specifically include the following with supporting primary documents (soil test reports, fertiliser contractor print-outs, fertiliser invoices etc.) as proof of the records:

  1. amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus (kg/ha) for each block calculated using the Prescribed methodology for sugarcane cultivation
  2. method of fertiliser application
  3. date of soil testing as well as the soil test report/results and a description of the location and the dominant soil type sampled
  4. map of the boundaries of blocks or management zones where:
    1. soil sampling has been undertaken and
    2. where fertiliser and mill mud/mill ash has been applied
  5. a soil map showing the dominant soil types covering the blocks or management zones where samples were taken.

Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget records

For sugarcane producers, farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget records must specifically include the following with supporting primary documents (soil test reports, fertiliser contractor print-outs, fertiliser invoices etc.) as proof of the records:

  1. calculated whole of farm nitrogen amount for the following harvest period (kg)
  2. calculated whole of farm phosphorus amount for the following harvest period (kg)
  3. annual amount of nitrogen applied to the whole of farm for the previous harvest period (kg or tonnes)
  4. annual amount of phosphorus applied to the whole of farm for the previous harvest period (kg or tonnes)
  5. actual yield achieved for the previous harvest period (tonnes/cane/ha)
  6. historical yields (if applicable) (tonnes/cane/ha)
  7. a farm map including:
    1. farm number or unique identifier/s
    2. block boundaries
    3. block identifiers
    4. area of each block (in hectares)
    5. area of whole of farm (in hectares)
    6. crop class and fallow areas
    7. identification of any physical or soil chemical constraints to yield (if they exist) for each management zones and/or blocks
  8. name(s) and contact details of the appropriate person who developed and/or verified the farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget
  9. date the farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget was developed and verified.

What minimum practice agricultural standards do I need to comply with?

To meet the minimum practice agricultural standards, sugarcane producers will need to:

  • use the prescribed method to carry out soil tests and to calculate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that can be applied to each block each year
  • apply no more than the amount calculated using the prescribed method
  • no ground based broadcast fertiliser applications except in fallow when no nitrogen is applied
  • have appropriate erosion and sediment control measures and ensure fallow blocks have surface cover
  • prepare a farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget that:
    • uses soil test results and calculates nitrogen and phosphorus recommendations for all blocks as per prescribed method (e.g. Six Easy Steps)
    • adds together nitrogen and phosphorus rates for all blocks to work out the whole of farm amount
    • identifies constraints to yield and nutrient uptake
    • can vary nitrogen and phosphorus rates across blocks as long as the whole of farm amount is not exceeded
    • has a farm map
    • is developed and verified by an appropriately skilled/experienced person for the first time – then every five years
    • reviewed and updated annually by the grower
    • an appropriate person may be, for example, an agronomist or a grower that has the skills or experience in developing nutrient budgets. Growers who have the relevant experience or qualifications through a recognised program can prepare their own budget.

For a full description of the minimum practice agricultural standards for sugarcane producers, please refer to the Agricultural ERA standard for sugarcane cultivation (PDF, 1.4 MB) and the Prescribed methodology for sugarcane cultivation (PDF, 1.9 MB) .

You can also refer to the Sediment and erosion control guide (PDF, 2.5 MB) , Fertiliser placement guide (PDF, 1.3 MB) and Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget guide (PDF, 3.0 MB) for information on how to comply.

For information about the changes for currently regulated sugarcane growers, please refer to the Changes for sugarcane growers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday regions factsheet (PDF, 741 KB) .

Watch this video to learn more about nitrogen and phosphorus budgets.

Sugarcane nitrogen and phosphorus budget

This video outlines the process to develop a sugarcane nitrogen and phosphorus budget as required under the Reef protection regulations including answering some commonly asked questions.

closed captions icon Duration 00:09:03

Marcus: Dom, we're here today to talk about the need for sugarcane producers to create a nitrogen and phosphorus budget for the new Reef protection regulations. Could you tell me some more about these please?

Dom: Yeah sure, Marcus. Basically, what's happened in December 2019, the Reef regulations for cane farming changed. A centrepiece of that package was a thing we call the N&P budget. Now that's for working out your nitrogen and phosphorus rates on the farm. The N&P budget is still based on the Six Easy Steps process. So, you still work out the rates per block as you would normally do. But the change now is you have a whole of farm amount. And what that does is that gives the growers some flexibility in where they place their fertiliser. The way that works is you add up all the nitrogen recommendations for all your blocks and you must not exceed that amount. What you can do though, is you if you want to trial something or if you've got a situation where you've got some irrigation on part of your farm, what you could do is you could add on a higher rate than the recommended rate in that area but that would have to be offset somewhere else on the farm, with a lower rate, ergo that the whole of farm amount is not breached.

Marcus: So, has the method for calculating nitrogen rates changed?

Dom: No, we still base it on the Six Easy Steps, as I said. And there's a regulated method which you use to base your application rates on in conjunction with soil tests that's available on our website.

Marcus: Who needs to develop the budget?

Dom: Well, the budget, really, should be put together by a suitably qualified person. By that, I mean, someone like an agronomist, someone who understands the principles and the science behind soil science, and they are able to give you the appropriate recommendation based on what the crop needs and the status of the soil in order for you to grow the best crop you can.

Marcus: How is this budget developed?

Dom: Well, you've got to start off with a farm map and a soils map. You've got to identify the constraints on the farm. These might be soil constraints. You've got to have the soil sampling results available, for your ratoons and your plant cane. And from that you use the prescribed methodology to work out the rates. And then if you want to, you can vary the rates across the farm as long as you don't exceed the whole of farm amount.

Marcus: When can growers vary their rates?

Dom: Well growers can vary their rates in conjunction with the agronomist or the suitably qualified person I mentioned before. So, the idea is, is we want to build in a bit of flexibility for the growers to be able to make decisions with regards to their cane that will improve their profitability and productivity.

Marcus: So, growers could put an extra 10 kilograms of nitrogen on one of their farms, if they and their agronomist thought that yield potential would be higher on that block?

Dom: That's fine. But what you have to do then is look for parts of the farm, where you can drop the rate. So that might be something like a bean crop. You've plant cane, with some beans on it, and you're just going to take off, a reasonably small amount from that and give it to the other area of the farm. That might not be enough, so you might look for other places where you can look for savings of nitrogen, and that could include the last ratoon that you've got going. The other thing is, is this can change at any time.

Marcus: How often do growers need to take soil samples?

Dom: Well, soil samples need to be taken prior to plant cane being established. So, it's basically what we would consider a crop cycle. That's once every five years on any particular part of the country. But if you're ratooning out further than that, that's fine. That soil sample can still be used for those older ratoons. If you need more information on soil sampling as I said before, the prescribed method for sugarcane also includes a method for soil sampling and the appropriate tests that need to be conducted and the people, the labs that you should be taking them to.

Marcus: How do growers manage their phosphorus?

Dom: There's a 10-kilo phosphorus allowance at plant. And that continues. The only thing is, is if you choose to use that allowance it can't form a part of your budget. And the other difference with phosphorus is some people apply multiple years’ worth of phosphorus to cover multiple years. Now that's fine. That can still continue, but if you choose to do that you must still make a record of those phosphorus applications but they do not form a part of the budget. If you're applying phosphorus yearly and you're doing that ala the Six Easy Steps, then you can use that in your phosphorus budget and treat it the same as nitrogen.

Marcus: What about growing another crop in rotation with cane? Do growers need to account for a legume crop in the budget?

Dom: No, they don't. They don't have to account for the nitrogen applications for any other crops whether they're legumes or corn, within the budget. The budget only applies to sugarcane because that's the science that we have available that we're able to make recommendations based on the Six Easy Steps.

Marcus: How does the nitrogen and phosphorus budget work across several farms with different ID numbers?

Dom: That's fine. So, it's just a practical rule that, just because the blocks aren't all joined together on a continuous farm, that doesn't mean it's not a farm. So that can be treated as one farm or if the grower would prefer they can treat them as separate farms.

Marcus: How long does the budget last?

Dom: So, the budget has to be updated every year. But it has to be reviewed every five years with a suitably qualified person.

Marcus: What records do growers need to keep?

Dom: So, they need to keep the records of their recommendations per block. They need to keep a record of the applications of N&P that they've made, and they need to keep a copy of their N&P budget, which can be in whatever format works for the grower and their agronomist.

Marcus: Is there a template or an example budget that growers can use?

Dom: No, we don't have a template, but what we do have is a guide that's also available on our website and that tries to run through one particular approach to keeping these records and formatting the budget because obviously you need a farm map. You'll need to distinguish the zones where you may want to change rates. But the other thing to remember, you may not want to change rates. You may want to just stick with the way you're doing it but you will still need the N&P budget completed.

Marcus: What is the verification process? And is there a form that the advisor needs to complete?

Dom: No, there's no form the advisor needs to complete but the advisor will have to sign and put their details onto the N&P budget.

Marcus: Does every farm need to complete a nitrogen and phosphorus budget? And when do growers need to do this?

Dom: Yes, they do, Marcus. Every farm will need to do one. The date at which it's enacted is the 1st of December 2021. So that would mean that the farm budget would have to be developed for that 2022 season.

Marcus: How can growers find out more?

Dom: Well, I mean, they could talk to their local agronomists, but we're keen to help out people who need that help. So, there's a website available and there's also a phone number and you can see that below. And we're more than happy to help people through this. If they need some assistance with working it out or who would be the appropriate people to talk to.

What are the requirements for new or expanding cropping and horticulture?

From 1 June 2021, new or expanding cropping and horticulture activities (including sugarcane production) in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions on five hectares or more of land does not have a cropping history will require an environmental authority (permit) before the activity or any work takes place.

A cropping history is when the land has been used for cropping or horticulture activities during three out of the last 10 years. There are also transitional provisions that allow some extra time to develop a cropping history for any cropping that has only recently started (in the three years prior to 1 June 2021).

All farms will need to meet minimum practice agricultural standards where these apply to the crop(s) being grown.

For detailed information on this requirement please refer to the new or expanding cropping page.

What about other requirements for records about agricultural chemicals?

You might also be required to keep records because of other legal requirements.

For example, the Chemical Usage (Agricultural and Veterinary) Control Act 1988 requires sugarcane growers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday regions to meet prescribed conditions (including record keeping) for using, preparing, storing and possessing ametryn, atrazine, diuron, hexazinone and tebuthiuron.

For more information on this requirement, please refer to Managing agricultural chemicals.

When do the regulations apply?

Record keeping

All sugarcane producers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions are required to keep general records now and then, as the minimum practice agricultural standards commence for their region, minimum standard records.

Minimum practice agricultural standards

The minimum practice agricultural standards for sugarcane producers will apply as follows:

  • Wet Tropics region from 1 December 2019
  • Burdekin region from 1 December 2019
  • Mackay Whitsunday region from 1 December 2019
  • Fitzroy region from 1 December 2022
  • Burnett Mary region from 1 December 2022

Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget

The requirement to implement a farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget for sugarcane producers will apply as follows:

  • Wet Tropics region from 1 December 2021
  • Burdekin region from 1 December 2021
  • Mackay Whitsunday region from 1 December 2021
  • Fitzroy region from 1 December 2022
  • Burnett Mary region from 1 December 2022
When the Reef protection regulations apply for sugarcane

Region

Record keeping requirements

Minimum practice agricultural standards

Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget

New or expanding cropping activities

Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday and Wet Tropics

1 December 2019

1 December 2019

1 December 2021

1 June 2021

Burnett Mary and Fitzroy

1 December 2019

1 December 2022

1 December 2022

1 June 2021

Cape York

N/A

N/A

N/A

1 June 2021

Recognised accreditation programs and acknowledged practice change projects

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science has the ability to recognise producers who participate in programs and projects that align to, or achieve more than, the regulatory standards and identify them as a lower priority for compliance inspections under the Reef protection regulations. There are two options available (a) recognised accreditation programs and (b) acknowledged practice change projects.

For information on the benefits of being involved, read the recognised programs and acknowledged projects page.

How does compliance work?

Compliance officers from the Department of Environment and Science will meet with producers to help them understand what is required under the minimum practice agricultural standards.

The compliance program is prioritising its efforts on the areas that represent the greatest water quality threat to the Reef.

Where can I find more detailed information?

You can register to receive an information pack as well as regular updates on the regulations.

What support is available for sugarcane producers?

Programs and support tools are provided by the Australian and Queensland governments and industry organisations to help sugarcane producers identify opportunities to improve farming practices. For more information visit Sugarcane support programs.