What Practices are a Priority for Water Quality in the Wet Tropics?

Designed to complement WTSIP’s extension program, the Reef Trust 3 Water Quality Grants are intended to provide financial incentives for growers to adopt cane farming practices that are better for water quality. But which particular practices are being prioritised and why?

The funding for these grants is being provided by the Australian Government and to make sure that taxpayers money is invested effectively, they are prioritising high level practices in areas where there is likely to be most improvement to water quality.

The job of working out which practices are the priorities and where they are best implemented is obviously very complex.

WTSIP’s process of determining which practices to prioritise for grants was based on:

1. The Sugarcane Water Quality Risk Framework (SWQRF)

The Queensland Government has had this framework in place for a number of years through its Paddock to Reef Program. It classifies cane farming practices in terms of their relative risk to water quality – low risk, low to moderate risk, moderate risk and high risk.

The Australian Government will only fund projects that result in adoption of low or low-to-moderate risk practices.

2. Benchmarking

Government and industry use a series of 17 benchmarking questions to determine what practices a grower is using in relation to the Sugarcane Water Quality Risk Framework. This process is also used to determine if a ‘measureable’ practice change will be achieved as a result of a grant.

3. Advice from the WTSIP Cane Technical Advisory Group

This group of advisors was appointed by WTSIP to assess all the available research and evidence to determine which practices should qualify for Reef Trust 3 investment. These were ranked according to their benefit to both growers and water quality.

All three of these considerations incorporate the recommendations from the industry's own Sugar Yield Decline Joint Venture, which promoted a flexible cropping system based on conserving organic matter, breaking the cane monoculture, controlling traffic and minimising tillage.

What does this mean for growers?

Practices eligible for grants are categorised under the following four areas:

  1. Nutrient management
    Projects involving the collection and use of site-specific information to match crop inputs to different production zones within the farm are a high priority.
    A lower priority, although still important, is sub-surface placement of fertiliser since in most situations this is a better practice than surface application.
  2. Soil management
    Controlled traffic (matching row width to harvesting equipment) is the highest priority under this category since it has many benefits both to the grower and water quality. It also provides a good platform for moving to other high level practices such as zonal tillage and permanent bed systems.
    Other priorities include reduced tillage and increased groundcover (eg. Legume cover crops during fallow). PTO-powered (rotary hoe) variations of some of these practices are a lower priority because of the potential for over-cultivation.
  3. Herbicide management
    The single focus in this category is on practices used for the 'banded' use of residual herbicides when they are used to control problem weeds in the cane row, in combination with less hazardous herbicides elsewhere.
  4. Water management (drainage)
    The highest priority in this category is ‘integrated farm drainage’. Projects need to be based on a whole farm drainage plan showing the works planned over time to control the shedding of water from your farm. Sediment and nutrient traps are eligible but they are a low priority.
    In irrigation areas, irrigation scheduling equipment is eligible for funding as a means of reducing the loss of sediment, nutrients and herbicides through improved water use efficiency.

This table summarises the practices that are eligible for grants:

Priority practice CodePriority PracticeWet Tropics Priority Ranking
6.5Nutrient application based on 6ES using site-specific information (e.g. yield history, yield-mapping and mapping or fixing yield constraints) for variable-rate fertilising within blocks.1
6.4Nutrient application based on 6ES using site specific information (e.g. yield history, yield-mapping and mapping or fixing yield constraints) 1
2.1All machines including harvesters and haul-outs operate on the same wheel spacing. Can include:
o Matching row widths to harvester and haulouts (at ≥ 1.8m).
o GPS on Harvesting fleet or farm machinery if transitioning to ≥ 1.8m
o Includes widening of equipment if transitioning to ≥ 1.8m
10.2Banding of residual herbicides & directed /shielded spraying of knockdowns1
17.4Integrated farm drainage.2
5.4Zero tillage for planting (conditions apply).2
4.7Zero tillage legumes /cover crop (direct-drilled through the trash)2
4.6Zonal tilled legume /cover crop: (non-PTO powered)4
5.3Zonal tillage - planting: non- PTO powered.4
15.4Irrigation scheduling.5
7.4Sub-surface fertiliser placement.6
17.3Sediment/ nutrient traps 9
4.6Zonal tillage - legumes: PTO powered.9
5.3Zonal tillage - planting: PTO powered.9

For more information about applying for a grant speak to your WTSIP Extension Officer and read the grants guidelines.


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