Existing Reef protection regulations
How does this impact cane farmers?
The science about the state of the Great Barrier Reef is well-established. The Queensland Government is focusing attention on the uptake of key farming practices that directly reduce the likelihood of nutrients and pesticide run-off leaching into local waterways that flow into the Reef.
Officers from the Department of Environment and Science are working on-ground to help cane farmers in the Reef catchments understand what is required to meet the regulated minimum standards.
Officers meet with growers to:
- outline what is required
- review farm records to be kept under the Reef regulations
- advise of any changes required to meet the regulated requirements.
After this meeting, growers are visited each year until they meet the regulated requirements. While our team aims to work with growers to voluntarily meet the requirements, ongoing non-compliance may result in an enforcement response.
Our officers have the legal authority to request records and take copies as a record of the inspection. We take our legal obligations for information security and privacy very seriously and assure growers that only records required to be kept for legislative requirements are reviewed.
Areas with known high water quality impacts are a priority for compliance inspections, and all growers will be inspected over time. The number of growers inspected in each basin therefore varies, in some basins up to 65% of the farms have been inspected.
The following dashboard details compliance data with cane farmers and assistance provided in meeting the existing Reef regulations. This information is current as at June 2019.
The results show that while the non-compliance rates are high at the compliance’s team initial contact, most growers have taken steps and amended their farm practices voluntarily by the time the follow-up visit occurs.
The results also show there is large variation between basins. Compliance data is indicating that the basins with highest rates of compliance are the Barron, Tully-Murray, and Johnstone basins. These basins also have a high number of growers involved in the Smartcane BMP program, which promotes farm practices that align with the current regulatory requirements. The highest rates of non-compliance are in the Mackay-Whitsunday area in the Proserpine, O’Connell, and Plane Creek basins and in the Burdekin area in the Haughton basin.
Results of compliance activities (March 2016 – June 2019)
|Total number of inspections||Total percentage of area inspected|
Percentage of growers inspected by region
|Total number of initial inspections||Total number of revisits|
Outcome at initial inspection
Outcome at revisit
- Compliant – the grower has been identified as compliant through the inspection as they meet the regulated requirements under Chapter 4A of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
- BMP Accredited – the grower is accredited through Smartcane BMP, which requires farm paractices to meet the regulated requirements.
- Practice Change program – the grower is currently improving their practices to meet the regulated requirements by participating in a Practice Change program.
- Non-compliant – the grower has not met the regulated requirements.
- Other– the grower is no longer farming in that catchment or the inspection outcome is still under assessment.
Outcome of last compliance visit (results by basin)
Outcome of follow up compliance visits - Burdekin region
Outcome of follow up compliance visits - Mackay Whitsunday region
Outcome of follow up compliance visits - Wet Tropics region
Reasons for non-compliance
- Soil – the grower performed no soil testing within the 12 months prior to planting the cane and applying fertiliser, or did not soil test all soil types.
- Records – the grower did not keep all the required records such as soil tests, fertiliser application rates or fertiliser products.
- Nitrogen (N) – the grower applied more than the optimum amount of nitrogen or the optimum amount of nitrogen was not able to be determined due to a lack of records or soil tests.
- Phosphorus (P) – the grower applied more than the optimum amount of phosphorus or the optimum amount of phosphorus was not able to be determined due to a lack of records or soil tests.
NOTE: Non-compliance reasons are not mutually exclusive and most growers are non-compliant for a number of reasons. Total number of growers in any catchment fluctuates seasonally which impacts percentages.
How to comply with Reef protection regulations
In 2010 Reef protection requirements that directly relate to sugarcane farming were brought in under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act).
This Great Barrier Reef catchments map (PDF, 1.5MB) shows the areas that the regulations relate to.
The current regulations require all cane farmers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay-Whitsundays to:
- Undertake soil tests within one year of planting in accordance with the Method for soil sampling and analysis for sugarcane properties (PDF, 1.4MB) regulated under the EP Act.
- Use the results of soil tests to calculate the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in accordance with the Method for calculating the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to be applied to sugarcane properties regulated under the EP Act.
- Keep the soil test reports and records of the calculation of the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus for a period of five years.
- Apply no more than the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus.
- Keep records (DOCX, 110KB) of the agricultural chemicals, fertilisers and soil conditioners applied including the amount, product analysis, date and method of application for a period of five years.
- Have a map showing the boundary of the blocks where soil testing and fertiliser and soil conditioner application has occurred.
After more than two years of extensive work with peak bodies and broader community consultation, the Queensland Government introduced a Bill to Parliament in February 2019 to strengthen existing Reef protection regulations.
How to improve cane farming practices
In addition, there are a number of programs and support tools provided by the Australian and Queensland Governments and industry organisations to help cane farmers adopt best farming practices.
Read more about the support programs and tools for cane farmers.
For more information, please email OfficeoftheGBR@des.qld.gov.au or call 13 QGOV (13 74 68).
In this guide:
- How does this impact cane farmers?
- How does this impact graziers?
- Impacts of nutrient and pesticide run-off from cane farming
- Impacts of sediment run-off from grazing
- Support programs and tools for cane farmers
- Support programs and tools for graziers
- Best management practice in reef catchments
- Managing agricultural chemicals
- Nutrient calculation and soil sampling