Queensland Country Life

Audit prompts a re-think on chemical record keeping

Andrew Ygosse, senior project officer (reef) plant biosecurity and product integrity, DAF, Townsville with cane grower Ricky Mio, Clare, discussing the need for accurate records when it comes to farm chemicals. Picture supplied
Andrew Ygosse, senior project officer (reef) plant biosecurity and product integrity, DAF, Townsville with cane grower Ricky Mio, Clare, discussing the need for accurate records when it comes to farm chemicals. Picture supplied

This is branded content for Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

RICKY Mio admits he was cranky when he learnt he was going to be the subject of a pesticide audit. That was before it all clicked for him though.

The second-generation cane grower and livestock producer based at Clare in North Queensland, has since become an advocate for thorough, digital recordkeeping.

Mr Mio farms 16,000 hectares all up with 12,000ha under cane and the rest used for livestock.

The journey to better record keeping got off to a shaky start with Mr Mio, who tossed the initial letter from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) pesticide project in the bin.

"I got a call from the pesticide people at DAF about why they needed to audit the farm. We were very short staffed at the time and I didn't really understand why we had to do it," he said.

"But we went ahead with a meeting over the phone.

The DAF pesticide project is part of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan that aims to protect 99 per cent of aquatic species at the river mouth.

The project undertakes agricultural chemical farm audits to ensure producers are aware of their obligations for chemical use and so better understand the best way to achieve the most from their chemical application.

"The first time we didn't go too well on the audit," Mr Mio said.

Chemical use record keeping is vital in modern farming and can lead to cost savings as well. Picture supplied
Chemical use record keeping is vital in modern farming and can lead to cost savings as well. Picture supplied

"It wasn't that we weren't applying the chemicals correctly, it was just we weren't recording it correctly. They needed proof from records."

This spurred Mr Mio on to lift his game.

"I realised I need to control the management of my farm better and show buyers and consumers the supply production chain," he said.

"You've got to put the emotions to one side and use logic. What is the benefit of this process to me? I'm not interested in fines or repercussions.

"What I want to know about is how to use chemicals effectively and efficiently."

This desire to improve and adapt is part of a bigger picture view of his industry as well.

You've got to put the emotions to one side and use logic.

- Ricky Mio, Clare

Mr Mio said looking at individual paddocks, the chemical use and comparing the information, gives the grower power.

"We need to be more efficient in the way we're spraying chemicals," he said.

"They are very expensive and there's no point wasting them.

"Of course we are aware of the health of the Great Barrier Reef too and the public concern for it, so we're also looking at sediment ponds that can slow the speed of the water running through the property and reduce sediment leaving the farm."

One of the biggest turning points for the operation was a discussion about keeping records of spraying best practice.

"Our staff understand about where the creek is; they know to look at which way the wind is blowing and to spray away from it," Mr Mio said.

"We've just got to record it better. My brother keeps the most perfect handwritten records but that's not everyone's style.

Responsible farm chemical storage and use not only improves the positive image of and industry but can also lead to better farm efficiency. Picture supplied
Responsible farm chemical storage and use not only improves the positive image of and industry but can also lead to better farm efficiency. Picture supplied

"It doesn't matter where you are, or who you are, we need to keep information and we need to do that better."

His team is now thinking about how it can digitise all record keeping, going beyond just keeping chemical sheets in the storage areas.

One solution is moving to a cloud-based program.

Mr Mio has been looking at various options including the Farmacist app, a data management system that ensures the location of each record, plus all necessary data inputs for future use.

It records such things as nutrients, pesticides, lime/gypsum, mill mud/ash applications, irrigation, soil sample data, sugarcane class/variety, alternative crops, water and tissue analysis and more.

Mr Mio is also open to installing the best digital product into his tractors to ensure everything is tracked.

"But it's getting the operators to use the software, or fill in the book, by showing them how to do it and getting them to understand why we need to do it, not forcing them to do it," he said.

DAF pesticide project officer Andrew Ygosse, proved a big help to Mr Mio, reinforcing that the pesticide compliance team is there to help growers improve their businesses and farming practices.

Building up relationships and trust, plus the openness to ask questions have been vital to the interactions between the team and growers.

Mr Mio was the inaugural president of AgForce Cane, taking up the position in 2020.

Having been on the family property since he was 17 years old, Mr Mio said he's seen more changes in the past 10 years than the previous 25.

He said he was keenly aware there was a lot of misinformation out there.

To counter that, Mr Mio asked the pesticide team to attend some shed meetings to explain what they are doing and why everyone should pay attention. He said when growers learn it's just about record keeping and common sense, buffers and spray drift, it's not such an intimidating enterprise.

Growers interested in learning more about the pesticide project and record keeping can contact DAF on 13 25 23.

This is branded content for Department of Agriculture and Fisheries