Loss of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, from sugarcane production has been identified as a major source of pollution in the Water Quality Improvement Plans of the wet tropics, dry tropics, Mackay-Proserpine and Burnett-Mary regions. To address this problem, a suite of management practices has been defined in each region classified as D (high nutrient loss) to A (low loss). Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants and Qld Government regulation are supporting farmers adopt B-Class practices. And between past research on environmental impacts of sugar production, and proposed activities in the Reef Rescue's Paddock-to-Reef monitoring and evaluation program, there is/soon will be a lot of information on the water quality impacts of B- (and C-) Class practices. So, the water quality impact of this change is/will be reasonably understood. Unfortunately, there is already evidence that widespread adoption of B-Class practices may not meet water quality goals. But what about A-Class practices? To what extent will they meet water quality targets?
A-Class practices generally focus on 'precision management' of soil, water and nutrients to minimise nutrient losses and maximise farm profitability. In sugarcane production, that is improving soil health through growing break crops and adopting controlled traffic (to improve infiltration and reduce runoff), matching nutrient applications to soil/production zones within paddocks (to minimise nutrient applications), and maximising irrigation efficiency (to reduce runoff). It is anticipated that there will be synergistic benefits of adopting all these practices as a whole system. To date, however, there is little information on the effect of these practices applied in combination (as opposed to just changing nutrient rates, etc).
Despite this lack of information, leading-edge farmers are already adopting A-Class practices, even practices not yet properly evaluated in the context of Reef Rescue. The adoption of these practices are being supported by Project Catalyst, a partnership between NQ Dry Tropics and Terrain, Coca Cola and World Wildlife Fund, aiming to provide increased momentum for adoption of A-Class practices. In the face of these farmer- and industry-led initiatives, this project will quantify the water quality improvement that can be expected from these practices, have this information represented in Reef Rescue evaluation activities, and identify refinements that can deliver even further improvements in water quality in the future.
PROGRESS UPDATES for this project are summarised here
This information is coming soon.