PROGRESSIVE Burdekin farmers Chris and Sonya Hesp and their son Damon say a big stick approach to fertiliser use is unnecessarily limiting both the productivity and the efficiency of the cane industry without necessarily helping to further protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Under new regulations introduced by the Palaszczuk government in October, the application of nitrogen fertiliser is limited to a maximum of 210kg per hectare regardless of the requirements of the soil or the growing plant.
The reef regulations also appear to inhibit the widely-adopted, industry-led Six Easy Steps program.
That best management practice program is designed to contribute to the annual reduction of dissolved inorganic nitrogen by providing an accurate method for growers to calculate an appropriate rate of nitrogen for their cane operations. The program was developed in response to ambitious but important water quality targets previously set by the government.
Compared to the inflexibility of the hardline reef regulations, the advantage of the six steps program is that it is constantly refined to focus on paddock variables and other complexities.
The government argued the regulations were necessary because scientific evidence suggested significant quantities of fertiliser, pesticides and sediment from both agricultural and industrial land uses were entering the reef lagoon.
Adding insult to injury, the highly politicised reef regulations were deemed necessary to protect the Great Barrier Reef despite the ongoing efforts of the cane industry.
"It's the inflexibility which doesn't make sense," Chris Hesp said.
"The Burdekin isn't a single, consistent farming area. There are different soil types, different farm designs and even different micro-climates across this region."
Mr Hesp said fertiliser was typically applied at the front-end of the growing cycle of the crop, meaning the chances of run-off occurring as the result of a flood event were further diminished.
"We've invested a lot in the efficiency of this farm by making sure nothing leaves the farm," he said.
"Because of the recycle pits we have installed, no water leaves this farm unless it is because of flooding.
"No farmer is going to let anything escape their farm if it is possible because anything running off a farm is costing money."
The Hesps farm 730ha in the Mulgrave area of the Burdekin, supplying Wilmar's Invicta Mill at Giru.
They bought the country as undeveloped scrub land during the Burdekin River Irrigation Area auctions in 1991.