Reducing fertiliser run-off

Duration 00:02:01

Reducing fertiliser run-off to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Jayson Dowie: [00:00:00]

Everybody is putting in a really great effort to, you know, maintain production improve yields and be environmentally aware and look after what we've got with the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Sven Uthicke: [00:00:14]

Nutrients or nutrient run-off can have various impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. Amongst those are the potential of increasing crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Crown-of-thorns are a natural part of the reef. However on the Barrier Reef and many other reefs worldwide, these episodically break out. They eat too many corals so the corals can't recover. That's specifically bad during stress events like the current bleachings we have.

Jayson Dowie: [00:42]

It's all about understanding this. We work with the growers to understand it and if we understand it correctly then, you know, we keep the Reef as resilient as possible because we are keeping all of our fertiliser on the farm. We've saved about 82 tonnes of nitrogen over the four and a half thousand hectares in the project for the first year growers alone. It's a journey between us and the growers.

John Quagliata: [00:1:07]

Having projects like what Jason and Heidi are in it’s educated me and I've been growing cane for a long time. We've always gone to the Reef because it is a natural wonder and it's just beautiful. And I want it to be there for my grandchildren for their kids to enjoy. This plan that we're under, I reckon it's a great way and the more people that take it on board the better it's going to be.

Charles Quagliata: [00:1:28]

Our main aim is to get the plant to use exactly what it needs.

John Quagliata: [00:1:32]

And no waste.

Charles Quagliata: [00:1:33]

Putting the right rate on. Better in our pocket. Better for the Reef. Better for everything.

Jayson Dowie: [00:1:38]

Together we can sort of figure out a really good way forward on how to optimise their production while reducing their input costs. Therefore it's more sustainable, the community benefits, the environment benefits, the grower benefits, it's a win-win for everybody.

Improving farming practices in the Wet Tropics.

Duration 00:00:43

Carole Sweatman: [00:00:04]

One of the most exciting projects we’re working on in the Wet Tropics is called the Major Integrated Project. It’s working in the Johnstone and the Tully catchments in the Wet Tropics.

Carole Sweatman: [00:00:12]

The key thing with the Major Integrated Project is it’s not just about water quality for the Reef, it’s about sustainable communities.

Carole Sweatman: [00:00:20]

This project is really important to us because it’s about a grassroots design.

Carole Sweatman: [00:00:23]

Rural communities in Queensland are really important to everybody, those small towns, we’ve been through disasters, we’ve got ups and downs with agricultural prices but we’re all trying to work together in actually ensuring that we’re here for the long-term.

Fertilisers are essential to farming. They provide crops with the nutrients they need to grow.

Unfortunately, losing fertiliser in farm run-off into local waterways is not only causing farmers to lose valuable product that they would prefer not to waste, it also leads to degraded water quality on the Reef, impacting Reef health and its resilience to climate change. This run-off is also a main contributor to the outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) as the nutrients in fertilisers cause algae outbreaks that feed the starfish. COTS outbreaks are one of the major factors contributing to coral cover decline across the Great Barrier Reef.

Many people are working hard to ensure Queensland has productive and profitable farms and a thriving Great Barrier Reef. This is why farmers are working with agronomists and natural resource management groups to apply best practice management approaches to reduce fertiliser run-off.

Declining marine water quality is recognised as one of the most significant threats to the long-term health of the Great Barrier Reef. The Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program funds a range of projects working with industry, agricultural producers and communities to reduce run-off.


Moving from the classroom to the paddock, the Burdekin Nitrogen Trials (RP20) and its follow on projects prove that what is good in theory can be good in practice.

RP20 Burdekin Nitrogen Trials was an award-winning collaboration involving Burdekin farmers, the Queensland Government and Sugar Research Australia that proved that using the industry nutrient standard maximises grower profitability.

To build on this success, Complete Nutrient Management Planning for Cane Farming projects now operate in the Burdekin (RP161), Mackay Whitsunday (RP196), Isis (RP200), Herbert (RP210) and Russell Mulgrave (RP222C and RP223) areas. They are delivered by Farmacist, Sugar Research Australia, Herbert Cane Productivity Services Ltd , Mackay Area Productivity Services and Isis Productivity Limited.

More than 400 cane growers are involved in these projects which provide one-on-one support to improve whole-of-farm nutrient management planning to achieve productivity and profitability outcomes while keeping fertiliser on farms and out of waterways.

Photo courtesy of Terrain NRM

Wet Tropics’ sugarcane and banana growers, along with local community members, scientists, industry and technical experts, have designed a Major Integrated Project (MIP) to reduce nutrient and pesticide losses and improve water quality in local waterways and on the Great Barrier Reef.

Some key components of the Wet Tropics’ MIP include trialling catchment repair and treatment systems, increasing support of growers with access to extension staff, local scale water monitoring, and more.

With a significant investment and a ground up approach, the Major Integrated Projects are a ground-breaking innovation aimed at achieving accelerated water quality outcomes in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin.

The Smartcane Best Management Practice (BMP) program, delivered by Canegrowers, aims to improve the productivity and profitability of Queensland cane farmers while reducing the nutrients, pesticides and sediment leaving properties and entering waterways that lead to the Great Barrier Reef.

This voluntary best practice system is developed and owned by the industry. Through the program, growers work with facilitators to assess their practices against industry standards. Solutions are then tailored for each farm and growers are given one-on-one support to make changes that will improve profitability, productivity and environmental outcomes and help them reach a point where they can become accredited under the program.

The Banana BMP program, delivered by the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, is focused on supporting banana growers in Reef catchments and is a practical and proven way to improve grower knowledge and water quality outcomes for the Reef.

Growcom’s Hort360 Great Barrier Reef BMP program provides opportunities for growers to self-assess or work with a facilitator to identify improvements to reduce nutrient, pesticide and sediment run-off. Growers can also become accredited under the Hort360 Reef Certification program which provides a pathway for horticulture growers to demonstrate their environmental stewardship and industry best practice standards in the Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Across industry and the Queensland and Australian governments, there are a number of other programs and support tools that help sugarcane, banana and horticulture producers adopt improved farming practices and reduce nutrient run-off.

Other resources

How you can help

From the Great Barrier Reef to Moreton Bay, all Queensland waterways are connected. 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.

And regardless of where you live, you can take actions to reduce your carbon footprint to ease the stress on the planet.

Find out more about how you can help.