West Mackay cane field looking towards Racecourse Mill.
West Mackay cane field looking towards Racecourse Mill.

Cane farmers slam DES over reef regulations

A WAR of words has erupted between Queensland farmers and representatives of the State Government over reef regulations.

Tensions were palpable at a meeting between cane farmers and a representative of the Department of Environment and Science during last week's Plane Creek Area Committee's annual information meeting in Sarina. The issue was new reef regulations and the mechanics of implementing them on farms.

A report by the Queensland Government and James Cook University outlined how pollutants from the cane and grazing industries polluted sub-catchment areas which eventually ran into the Great Barrier Reef.

During Friday's meeting, Scott Robinson from the Department of Environment and Science told the gathering of cane farmers that although damage to the Great Barrier Reef had been reduced by efforts taken, more needed to be done.

But Plane Creek Area Committee chairman Kevin Borg said the holes in the regulations were big enough to drive a truck through and accused the government of failing to recognise the efforts already undertaken by farmers.

"The Queensland Government is not recognising the positive progress being made by cane growers," Mr Borg said.

"The industry has made big inroads and now boasts a healthy 30 per cent of all cane growing throughout the state accredited under the Smartcane Best Management Practice program.

"Unfortunately, those making the regulations fail to recognise that cane growing is not an occupation where one size fits all.

"It takes years of experience for a farmer to be able to take advantage of local weather and farming conditions to grow a good crop."

Mr Borg said the reef regulations were unnecessary and impractical, the big stick approach would never work and that putting incentives in place would assist growers to make changes faster for the benefit of farming productivity and the environment.

But he said the regulations were the law and farmers would continue to work to implement them.

However, Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch maintains the reforms will help reduce sediment pollution of the water in the catchment areas and improve the health and quality of the Reef.

Australian Marine Conservation Society CEO Imogen Zethoven said the laws were "the right response to the scientific consensus" about agricultural run-off damaging inshore ecosystems.

Declines in the coastal ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef have been linked with increases in the land-based runoff of suspended sediments and nutrients and the addition of herbicides since European settlement.

The 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement noted there was strong evidence that improving catchment water quality would increase the resilience of the Reef and associated ecosystems, buying some time by partially offsetting the increasing damage and stress from climate factors.

Canegrowers must keep detailed soil tests and records of fertiliser and chemical use in order to minimise run-off.

About 14,000 farmers across the state, including 4500 canegrowers, have been affected by the regulations.

The Department of Agriculture has committed $53.36 million to the Australian Government Reef Program.

The Australian and Queensland governments established the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan in 2003 to halt and reverse the decline in the quality of the water entering the GBR lagoon.

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