In a first-of-its-kind announcement, the Australian and Queensland governments have declared the launch of a new $7.1 million trial into high-efficiency fertilisers. Grower-owned organisation, CANEGROWERS has been awarded the tender to undertake the trial, on-farm in areas which directly feed into the Great Barrier Reef.
Across three growing seasons, the sixty trials will be conducted over a range of conditions which vary in soil type, climate and production methods. While it is understood that lowering the use of chemical fertilisers in farming is of benefit to farmers, crops and the environment, it is hoped that these particular trials will result in not only increased yield for farmers, but in higher water quality flowing into the Great Barrier Reef region.
“All trials will be monitored for impacts on the farm ‘bottom line’ and selected trials monitored for the impacts on the quality of water leaving the farms. Advice will also be sought on farmers’ experiences with incorporating the new technology into their farming systems,” Dr Steven Miles, Queensland Minister for the Great Barrier Reef.
Supervising the trials will be cane industry research organisation Sugar Research Australia, while further monitoring and management will be conducted via a National Environmental Science Program. Further investment will be made by the Queensland Reef Water Quality’s innovation fund, ensuring that not only does the trial benefit farmers, but also helps to reach water quality targets for the already under-threat Great Barrier Reef.
The reef’s water quality is of concern to key bodies, as a recent ABC report outlines:
“The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce’s final report said improvements in water quality had not been quick or effective enough to improve or even maintain water quality on the reef.”
While the 2016 report from The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce found that around half of cane farmers whose runoff feeds into the reef were applying best practice (and only a 10th of graziers), as many as half were over-fertilising. This presents serious risk to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which already faces serious risk from sediment, bleaching and many other environmental factors. As much as two thirds of the reef has recently suffered irreparable bleaching in recent years, and the area is subject to much scrutiny both nationally and internationally.
The Australian and Queensland governments are keen to highlight their efforts at nurturing and protecting the reef, especially in light of all the recent attention.
“The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce found innovative farming practices would be required to meet our water quality targets. Through this fund, we are directly supporting new approaches that will ensure clean water flows to the reef,” Dr Miles said.
The new fertilisers are able to better control the release of nutrients into the soil, which researchers hope will allow farmers to use less of the material. This presents obvious benefits with regards to expenditure for farmers, but will also hopefully result in less runoff and impact on the surrounding water bodies, including the Great Barrier Reef. If the trials are successful, we could soon see these fertilisers rolled out to farms across the nation and even the globe, saving farmers millions and protecting yet more of our water sources and natural wonders.