Government will report progress towards the Reef 2050 Plan to the United Nations (UNESCO) this week. It is therefore timely to consider the importance of agriculture in the Reef catchments and highlight recent progress that has been made by the sector.
The gross value of agriculture production in the Reef catchments is about $5 billion per year, with the current level of production responsible for about 40,000 jobs. Up and down the coast farmers are embracing the practical and social changes needed to ensure Queensland continues to have a vibrant and responsible agricultural sector that supports our regional communities and minimises its impact on the Reef.
Social change in any setting always takes time. It is never something that can be turned around overnight with a click of the fingers. Measuring the progress of social change is often a tenuous exercise; however, it is striking to consider what is happening in agriculture in the Reef catchments. As a sector we can confidently say that the momentum has shifted.
During the three years 2013-16, over 2000 Queensland farmers in priority Reef catchments had engaged and implemented management practice changes. This covers an area of more than 1.33 million hectares across the catchments delivering positive outcomes for the Reef.
Cultural change is essential and our industries are embracing their Best Management Practice (BMP) programs. A recent testament to this was Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri reaching SmartCane BMP accreditation on his family property after making the financial and time investment to get their environmental record recognised. He joined more than 152 SmartCane BMP accredited farms covering an area of over 43,176 hectares.
Queensland’s largest sugarcane grower, MSF Sugar, was also recently recognised at the Premier’s Sustainability Awards for its 'Modern Farming' system that is delivering Smartcane BMP accreditation for all of its properties.
Cane growers in the Burnett Mary catchment and horticultural growers in the Burdekin catchment have invested $4 of their own money for every $1 of government investment. This story can be seen all the way up and down the Reef catchments across all industries. During 2013-16, farmers invested $40 million to improve management practices demonstrating a significant, sustained commitment to taking the sector forward.
When farmers are willing to put their hands in their own pockets and invest in the future of their businesses as well as the sector as a whole, it is clear that we have turned a corner. Agriculture is working constructively with government and the community to play its part in the overall efforts to improve human impacts on the Reef. Social change takes time and money; however, we are seeing a shift which will see agriculture deliver upon community expectations if long term, strategic investment is maintained.
There continues to be a lot of noise from environmental groups questioning the commitment and ability of agriculture to deliver the changes it needs to cement its future alongside the Reef. It is essential that we do not get swept up in unfounded rhetoric, look at the facts and acknowledge that solid progress is under way. Farming will continue alongside the Reef into the future. Farmers are making the changes and investment required to cement a positive future for the sector.