The Reef Alliance – Growing a Great Barrier Reef Project is making substantial inroads on delivering a reef-wide approach for working with landholders to improve on-farm practices and reduce agriculture’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The 3-year project covers five of the six GBR catchment regions. After one year, 705 farmers managing 695,820 ha had been engaged by reef extension officers who clocked up over 4,179 hours of one-on-one time.
The first year of the project focused on engagement, planning and establishing a foundation to build upon. But there has also been considerable work with farmers to advance on-farm practices beyond industry best management practice (BMP) for sediment, nutrient and pesticide run-off. To date, 347 cane farmers, 88 graziers and 93 horticulture, dairy and grain farmers have made on-farm practices changes resulting in improved water quality outcomes.
Where processes are concerned, a single database to manage practice change and extension information across reef catchments has been built and put in place. This ground-breaking development is key to being able to tell a ‘reef-wide story’. The Queensland Government is following this lead and developing a ‘catch all’ database, with input from QFF’s Reef Alliance project team. The project is also promoting consistent delivery across industry and reef regions to reduce transaction costs for on-farm practice changes.
Positive, less visible achievements have also been made. Collaboration is hard at the best of times. When you factor in the make-up of partners in the project – six agricultural industry bodies and six regional natural resource management (NRM) organisations – it is easy to imagine the broad range of views, wants and needs that have been encountered and overcome.
The first-year success of the project is a direct result of Reef Alliance partners sharing information, resources and ideas to overcome the challenges and barriers that have been thrown up to deliver outcomes that benefit farmers and the reef. On the ground, the efforts of the project’s extension officers on the phone, on the road, in the paddock and around the kitchen table, have been pivotal in translating the partners’ vision into outcomes.
At the most fundamental level, farmers are key to the project’s success. They continue to provide environmental stewardship free of charge for the state and manage on-farm environmental risks. Our sector has been and continues to be built on the triple bottom line, and projects such as this help accelerate the uptake of on-farm technological changes to improve water quality while maintaining economic viability – a win for the environment and business. Farmers’ desire and commitment to continually improve management practices provide a degree of confidence that the project’s water quality outcomes will be achieved.
Now into the second year of the project, partners are heavily engaged in progressing on-farm implementation, which should see an acceleration in positive results. A full breakdown of the project’s first year results are available in the 2017 Impact Statement on the QFF website: https://www.qff.org.au/projects/reef-alliance/growing-great-barrier-reef/.
The project is funded by the Australian Government Reef Trust Program and facilitated by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF). Without committed farmers and the financial support of the Australian Government Reef Trust Program that recognises farmers as critical to providing solutions to help protect the reef, the positive outcomes achieved to date would not have been possible. – Stuart Armitage, QFF President