$1.2M water quality grants round opens for cane growers

Wet Tropics cane growers are being encouraged to apply for a water quality grant in a $1.2 million funding round that opens on 26 February 2018.

The Reef Trust III Water Quality Grants, funded by the Australian Government, support changes that lead to more sustainable farming practices.

Now in its second year, the Reef Trust III project has already funded a range of innovations and provided extension services to farmers, with cane industry targets in the Far North delivered by the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership and its team of 11 extension officers.

South Johnstone cane grower and chair of WTSIP, Joe Marano, said the water quality grants were an opportunity to help growers who needed financial assistance to adopt improved farming practices.  He said there was specific criteria, focused on water quality improvement and practice change.

“Cane growers take their responsibility as environmental stewards seriously – nobody gets up in the morning and sets out to damage the reef - but making changes to farming practices can be costly and time-consuming,’’ Mr Marano said.

“While applications for this program must show a benefit to water quality, many of these priority practices are also beneficial to yields and profits.

“One of the goals of the Reef Trust III program is to reduce the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) reaching the Great Barrier Reef by 10 per cent.

“Most of the DIN comes from chemical fertilisers, and from a farmer’s perspective that’s a lot of money wasted.

“WTSIP’s extension officers are working with individual growers to help them reduce their use of fertilisers without compromising yields. In cases where financial investment is needed, these grants can give them a helping hand.”

Previous grants projects have helped to reduce tillage and herbicide use, ranging from advances in fertiliser applicators, zonal tillage, controlled traffic and legume break-cropping equipment to mapping to improve fertiliser management practices.

Innisfail cane farmer Peter Zahra is manufacturing a split-box fertiliser applicator with double disc openers to apply fertiliser below the ground, following a first round grant.
The third-generation cane grower, who farms beside the Johnstone River and Bamboo Creek, said the funding had helped to bring forward better farming practices.

“This unit will give us the ability to apply fertiliser earlier – as soon as we finish harvesting when it can be applied to the top of the bed with less chance of erosion and run-off,’’ he said.

“We also hope to be able to download soil maps and, with GPS, automatically apply different rates of fertiliser as the soil in blocks changes.”

He is encouraging other growers to take advantage of the funding opportunity.

“At the end of the day, no one wants to see fertilisers and chemicals wash out to the Reef,’’ he said.

“There have already been a lot of changes in the last 10 years. And this is another opportunity that helps with getting soils healthier, reducing nitrogen usage and finding alternatives.”

The new round of water quality grants opens on Monday 26 February and closes on 27 April. Click for more information.  

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