Australian and Queensland Government Programmes

Grazing industry women share knowledge and experiences on unique bus tour

 Thirty-three female graziers, representing 28 grazing enterprises, attended NQ Dry Tropics’ Women In Grazing Bus Tour, held earlier this year.

At the unique event, leading female graziers shared their knowledge and experience as they spoke about ways to restore land and improve production, while reducing the impacts of agriculture on the Great Barrier Reef. Continue Reading…

Grazier reaps rewards of long-term commitment to sustainability

When Chris Hensley and his wife Nina bought Peak Vale in the Drummond Range, 60 km south-west of Clermont, in 1997 it was in a degraded condition; however, the husband and wife team have turned their enterprise around and are reaping the rewards of their long-term commitment to building a sustainable and profitable business.  Continue Reading…

$100 million for Reef Trust

The Australian Government has committed an additional $100 million in new funding for the Reef Trust to support the implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. The funding will be used to tackle key challenges facing the Reef in particular projects to improve water quality. This lifts the Reef Trust to $140 million in value. The Commonwealth Government also announced the appointment of the Commonwealth Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb to chair an independent scientific panel to advise on funding priorities for the Reef Trust. Read the media release here.



Additional funding for Reef water quality initiatives

The Queensland Government has its first Minister for the Great Barrier Reef and has made policy commitments to further improve the protection and management of the Reef. The Government will invest an additional $100 million over five years towards improving water quality, expanding scientific research, and securing better agricultural and grazing practices and more sustainable fisheries. This includes an increased focus on reducing nutrient and sediment load to minimise the effects of land-based runoff in Reef catchments. A high level taskforce will be convened to determine the best approach to achieve up to an 80 per cent reduction in nitrogen run-off and up to a 50 per cent reduction in sediment run-off into the Reef by 2025.

Reef Plan achievements 2013-2014

A new Reef Plan achievements report highlights the successes since the updated Reef Plan was released in July 2013. The report demonstrates that the implementation of actions is on track and projects are well underway, delivering significant on-ground results. Information is included on the involvement of landholders in a range of programs to improve land management practices, the number of crown-of-thorns starfish culled, government funding commitments, and research initiatives. The achievements report is available on the Reef Plan website. Further information, including progress towards the targets and the corresponding pollutant load reductions, will be provided in the Reef Plan Report Card 2014, scheduled for release in September 2015.

Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan

The Australian and Queensland governments have released a new 35-year plan to secure the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef for generations to come. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan provides an overarching framework for protecting and managing the World Heritage Area to 2050. It responds to the challenges facing the Reef and presents actions to protect its Outstanding Universal Value while allowing ecologically sustainable development and use. The Plan was developed with input from partners including the resources, ports, tourism, fishing, agriculture, Indigenous, local government, research and conservation sectors. A range of implementation activities are now underway including developing an investment framework and the Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program. The Plan is available on the Australian Government Department of the Environment website.

Australian Government Reef Programme Awards to recognise champion land managers

The Reef Programme Awards will be launched over the coming months, so stay tuned for the official announcement calling for nominations from champion land managers who have been working to reduce their off-farm impact on the iconic Great Barrier Reef. Anyone engaged in the Reef Programme is encouraged to consider nominating for an award or if you know someone who deserves recognition for their work, you could put forward a nomination on their behalf.

The awards were an opportunity to highlight the role that farmers play in land stewardship, and were also another way to showcase the collaborative nature of the programme.

The Australian Government’s Reef Programme is so successful because it works for mutually beneficial outcomes for farms and the environment. There have been many worthwhile projects undertaken during the first stage of the new program, and these awards will showcase some of the great achievements. The Reef Programme Awards will be held in conjunction with Reef Range and Red Dust Conference (Monday 31st of August to 2nd September) in Caloundra. The awards will be held at the dinner on 1 September 2015.

Price rise helps encourage Reef Programme investment

byrnes low res

Yungaburra dairy farmer Dennis Byrnes says that last year’s price rise is helping to give some confidence to reinvest in his business.

By Brad Pfeffer

DENNIS Byrnes is among dairy farmers on the Atherton Tableland who are now catching up on delayed maintenance and on-farm investment upgrades that sat on the backburner during recent years of depressed farm gate prices.

Farming at the southern end of the dairying region at Yungaburra, Mr Byrnes said recent years of low prices had seen farmers such as himself put off much-needed maintenance. But a recent price rise from the region’s processor, Lion, has put some confidence back into the local industry to the point where farmers can again think about upgrades and investments.

In mid-2014 Lion announced a five cent per litre (cpl) rise in its base price, while also abolishing tier two milk pricing.

For Mr Byrnes, who had produced an estimated 20-25% tier two in 2013, it marks a significant difference in his milk cheque. It is a far cry from the 28cpl for tier two.

He has estimated that his business is about 12cpl better off in 2014 than in 2013. “This year I applied lime to the ground, which is the first time in five years.  It is good for soil health, but we just couldn’t afford to do it before,” Mr Byrnes said.

He has also been encouraged to apply for a new project through the Australian government Reef Program to reuse effluent through his existing solid set irrigation. “It is a wasted resource if we can’t get it onto our paddocks. So it is a twofold benefit: it benefits the soil and it stops the effluent from contaminating waterways.”

Before the price rise, he had plans for disposing of replacement stock, whereas now he is hoping for modest growth.

Senior extension officer (soil science) Ross Henry said there had been a notable change in the industry over the last 12 months.

“Rewind 12 months to when we put out the first round of water quality grants there was still a good response but they were quite small projects and it was perhaps a bit light on,” Mr Henry said.

“The recent call for projects was quite soon after the price rise, and we had a lot of people put their hand up to talk about options. Some of those didn’t come through and they will apply again in 2015. But quite a few like Dennis’s have come through and they are going to be substantial projects where the farmer is putting in over 50 percent of the funding.”

James Geraghty with Dairy Farmers Milk Cooperative (DFMC) said the 2014 price rise had been a boon to the local industry.

“Coupled with the price rise was the rebranding of Dairyfarmers milk in North Queensland with the Malanda name and logo, which is something we had been seeking for 17 years. That has since resulted in a two percent rise in sales, which we hope will follow through and give us a higher price next year.”

He added though with a number of farm costs increasing, a number of farmers had commented that a further rise would be necessary this year.

“But hopefully the increase will help stabilise the industry and be a bit more incentive to grow for those farms who want to grow. Generally I think it has stabilised, but there is still a lack of confidence in going forward to reinvest.”

  • See the video of Dennis Byrnes here.

From dangerous drain to superb swale

Laying pipes in the drain

Laying pipes for the project at the Vicarioli property.

By Neroli Roocke

This is the story of how a Far North Queensland couple has turned a hazardous, eroded, two-metre deep and two-metre wide gully into a carefully engineered drainage swale.

It was surprising to hear a grower with an average farm rainfall of around 7000 mm a year say he missed my phone call because he was turning on an irrigation pump.

But Ray Vicarioli wasn’t watering sugarcane on his Bartle Frere property, he was watering grass. Getting it to grow is the final step in a drain rehabilitation project to which the Australian Government’s Reef Programme contributed a third of the cost.

It took Ray and his wife Rosemary two weeks of solid work to re-form the 120m long drain which catches water from a 22 hectare area, including part of their farm and neighbouring cane and banana properties, and channels it into a natural watercourse, called Menzies Creek.

“Before, all the water from these paddocks all ran down the centre here and kept scouring it out. From the top section now it will run through a pipe and of the rest, a percentage will soak in and the rest will flow over the top,” Ray explains.

“It was so deep before, over two metres, that I had to have a ladder in there to climb up and down while we were working on it,” Rosemary laughs.

Together they laid 24 pipes to take most of the water flowing down the gully. These were covered with sand before seepage pipes were laid over the top to take the water flowing down the adjacent cane fields.

“I made my own seepage pipes out of ordinary drain pipe and put the slits in myself – and it works really well,” Ray says. “It’s cheaper and they don’t collapse when you fill in around them.”

“It’s also had a series of layers of gravel, sand and dirt put in with weed matting on top. I worked out there were about 48 trailer loads and five massive truck and dog loads of gravel, dirt and sand. All up it’s probably 300 cubic metres of material that’s gone into there!”

The final step was the grass seed and because of the dry winter, Ray has borrowed irrigation equipment from a banana-growing neighbour in a bid to get it established.

In the end, a wide grassy depression will replace the dangerous two-metre deep gully.

“Once this grass is established, some of the water will still run over the top of it but the soil is protected,” Ray says.

“Red soil can be very slippery and this drain, when it was all open and deep, was a hazard that the bin tractors or the harvester could slip in! It had become a safety issue as well as a water issue.

“They’ll be able to drive straight across once I plant the two blocks on either side with the same variety. It makes it more efficient for the harvester driver as well.”

A final, lower rocky silt trap catches any surface water that remains before the junction of the drain and the creek.

“If there’s any silt coming through the pipes it’ll be caught in the last bit behind a log before the water goes into the creek,” Ray says.

The project extends some work Ray did with his father further up the hill some years ago and he believes there should be more emphasis on projects such as his within the Reef Programme in such rainfall areas.

“I’ve tried over the years, and spent a lot of money, to rebuild headlands to control each paddock’s water within itself,” he says.

“When the rain comes down, it comes pretty quickly. We can get three or four inches (75-100mm) in an hour and if you get an accumulation of water, that’s where it picks up speed and causes erosion.

“I think that silt control and containment and relevant earthwork projects should have a higher priority rating in the grants process because silt has been targeted for pesticide and nutrient run off in waterways.”

Further downhill from the re-formed drain, along the creek bank and by the side of the farm track, Ray has built up a small, 50cm levy bank. His aim is to filter any water flowing off those lower cane blocks towards the natural creek.

“Any runoff from the paddocks basically sits there and slowly seeps through,” he explains. “Trash blanketing too does a great job of holding the water back so very little silt is getting through now.”

The Vicarioli farm is more than 121 hectares with around 110 ha under cane. Creek lines have been progressively planted with trees and while we talk, Ray and Rosemary pull out their Field Guide to Australian Birds book to identify a newcomer. It is a Common Koel, or rainbird, that’s flown down from Papua New Guinea and something they’ve not seen so close to their house before this year.

Some of the tree planting has been undertaken with their local Russell River Landcare group and five acres of steep ground has been kept covered with rainforest species.

Also on the property, Ray hosts the variety distribution plot with new varieties are planted in trial blocks. They’re slow to get going this year and it’s hoped some rain soon will kick them along as well as test out the revamped drainage channel.

Reef rounds reap rewards

By Megan Woodward

Lew and Lachlan with the stool splitter fertilier box

Lew Vella with grandson Lachlan with the stool splitter fertiliser box.

If you’ve driven the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Cairns, you’ve already seen Lew and Desley Vella’s cane farm. North of Babinda, their nearly 96 hectare farm stretches across both sides of the highway.

“It’s on show for all who go past,” laughs Desley. “There’s not a lot we can get away with, without someone noticing and passing comment.”

For the most part, the comments are positive. The Vellas have successfully completed two rounds of projects in the Australian Government Reef Programme (formerly Reef Rescue), are finalising a third and are about to start on their fourth, in order to systemically improve different aspects of their farming.

Their original focus in 2008 was on the rehabilitation and stabilisation of waterways which run through the property to minimise sediment and chemical loss.

“Our creek banks were always well vegetated but some had suffered with erosion from cyclone flooding in some places, so it was a good starting point to focus on these,” Desley says. “We also initially reshaped our drainage network to spoon drains in an attempt to reduce the run off rate and sediment losses.”

Along the creek, rocks were used to stabilise the banks before scores of trees, grasses and bushes were planted – all selected with the help of Terrain NRM because they were endemic to the area. Eight years on the replanted stretches are indistinguishable from the rest of the creek line.

Chemical management was enhanced with the help of a hooded spray rig purchased with funding assistance.

“This was such an important part of minimising chemical usage,” Lew Vella says. “We could target the timing and placement and volume of the chemical distribution, which was really good.”

Through 2009 and 2010 Lew and Desley looked at nutrient management, acquiring a stool splitter.

“This was such a successful project for us,” says Desley. “It had a huge positive impact on the farm and gave us more of an opportunity to put on more nutrients, too.”

Desley admits they’re always happily surprised when their applications for Reef Programme funding are approved.

“The work we’ve always wanted to do has never really fit into traditional high priority projects but the Reef Programme has really allowed the good, every day cane farmer to focus on the little things, and they all build up to big things.”

Their plans for the next rounds are big too. Laser levelling is being done in a number of areas ahead of this wet season and they’re purchasing a direct drill soybean planter to reduce cultivation in their fallow fields.

“We trialled soy beans a number of years ago using a planter borrowed through BSES but we didn’t have the machinery to continue it,” Lew explains. “We’re hoping the direct drill planter will mean less disturbance of the block.

The main aim is minimum tillage, as zero till isn’t a viable option in their corner of the world.

“It’s just too loose, it’s like trying to plant on bitumen, just impossible,” Lew says.

The Vella’s farm is in an extremely wet belt, right at the base of Mt Bellenden Ker. The average rainfall can be anywhere up to 7000mm, so nutrient, chemical and sediment management is a must.

“I think this is partly why we have been consistently successful in our Reef Programme applications,” Desley says. “We’ve really tried to take an integrated approach to our implementation of best practice in these three key areas.”

And it’s all contributing to good yields. Last year, Lew Vella was awarded the 2013 Productivity Award as the Zone 1 Champion for the South Johnstone Mill. He averaged 13.8ts/ha and 100 tc/ha.

The Vellas see a role for the Australian Government Reef Programme beyond farming.

“It’s been such a fabulous thing for the agricultural industry but I’d really like to see it broadened,” Desley says.

“It’s not just farmers potentially impacting the reef, there are plenty of other sectors that could work towards being more environmentally friendly with the right support and funding, especially in this area of Queensland.”