Reef collaboration ensures farmers excel in their field

Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs The Honourable Meaghan Scanlon

Primary producers are being encouraged to find out how they can make their farms more sustainable in line with new cropping and horticulture requirements, which take effect next month.

Minister for the Environment and Great Barrier Reef Meaghan Scanlon said the Department of Environment and Science would host a series of online and in-person sessions to assist farmers learn about the new requirements for expanding cropping and horticulture that commence from June 1.

“The Palaszczuk Government backs the Great Barrier Reef, primary producers, and the jobs they support,” Ms Scanlon said.

“That’s why we’re working with the industry to reduce pollution on the reef, but also to help producers make their farms more sustainable and profitable.

“From May 18 to June 24, the public can attend either an online Zoom session or a meeting in person in the Fitzroy, Burnett-Mary, Burdekin, Wet Tropics, Mackay/Whitsundays, and Cape York regions.

“The Great Barrier Reef supports 60,000 jobs and injects $6 billion into our economy, with agricultural production in the Great Barrier Reef region adding another $6 billion in direct farm gate production.

“Department staff have been meeting with farmers regularly to provide support and assistance, including at a recent session by NQ Dry Tropics.

“We’ve also introduced a number of initiatives, including grants to help farmers adopt new technologies and approaches that are not only more environmentally friendly but will make their operations more profitable.

“These information sessions are a great opportunity for farmers to ask questions about the new regulations and get further clarification on how they can implement these rules.

Reef protection regulations commenced on December 1, 2019 and will continue to roll out over three years, with a focus is on industrial and agricultural activities that release nutrients and sediment across the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions.

From June 1, farmers may need an environmental authority, a permit, before any new or expanded commercial cropping or horticulture work can take place.

This will apply to activities in all Reef regions on five hectares or more that are not currently used for cropping or do not meet the cropping history test.

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

Farmers who meet the eligibility criteria will have a simplified application process and standard conditions to meet. They can also seek to vary the conditions if needed. Growers who do not meet the eligibility criteria will need to submit a site-specific application.

Ms Scanlon said the package of measures will allow growth in the agricultural industry while not undoing the progress producers have already made to improve water quality.

For industrial activities, a new sediment and nutrient release standard will apply to new or expanding industrial activities such as sewage and water treatment plants, land-based aquaculture facilities or mines from June 1.

If operators aren’t able to undertake an activity without increasing their nutrient or sediment loads, then they can use offsets to achieve no residual impact.

Ms Scanlon said the Reef Water Quality Report Card 2019 released earlier this year showed the quality of water flowing to Great Barrier Reef continues to improve thanks to better farming practices.

“Sugarcane and banana growers in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions were the main contributors to this positive 2018-2019 result through improving their nutrient and irrigation management,” Ms Scanlon said.

“I want to acknowledge farmers and graziers for their efforts to move away from using practices that pose a high risk to water quality.”

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