Reducing fertiliser run-off

Duration 00:02:01

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

Improving farming practices in the Wet Tropics.

Duration 00:00:43

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.

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.