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, fertiliser run-off into local waterways 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.


Moving from the classroom to the paddock, the Burdekin Nitrogen Trials (RP20) and its follow on project (RP161) prove that what is good in theory can be good in practice.

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

To build on this success, RP161 has seen Farmacist, a Burdekin-based agronomy firm , provide one-on-one support for over 100 Burdekin cane growers over two years to improve whole-of-farm nutrient management planning to achieve productivity and profitability outcomes while keeping fertiliser on farms and out of waterways. The project is in its second year and is showing a reduction in nitrogen losses, including run-off to local 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 includes 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.

Smartcane BMP 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.

Other projects

Find out more about other locally designed projects, innovations, technologies and science that contribute to improved water quality outcomes in Reef waters.

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.