Reef report card released

The banana industry continues to adopt Best Management Practices, with the 2016 Reef Report Card showing 62 per cent of Wet Tropics production land had improved their practice.

Released in October, the latest figure was a considerable increase from 56 per cent the previous year.

“The results show we’re going in the right direction,” said Robert Mayers, Extension Officer with the Australian Banana Growers’ Council.

“A lot of these processes take time to show results. For example, if you’re improving sediment management as you’re replanting blocks, it may take years to change the whole farm—it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.”

The Reef Report Card measures the percentage of growers who’ve adopted BMP in the areas of sediment and nutrients.

The Wet Tropics region has made very good progress in reducing particulate phosphorous, moderate progress in reducing sediment and pesticides, and very poor progress in reducing particulate nitrogen and dissolved in organic nitrogen.

For bananas specifically, BMP for sediment rose to 60 per cent, representing 7522 hectares, and nutrients climbed to 63 per cent, or 7831 hectares.

The noticeable improvement aligns with the industry’s ability to employ a dedicated extension officer in Mr Mayers.

This was possible due to a project funded by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Mr Mayers said fertigation was one of the changes being readily embraced on farm, significantly reducing the risk of nutrient losses through drainage and runoff.

“It’s a change that can be adopted any time of year,” explained Mr Mayers.

“But when it comes to sediment management, a lot of that is best done when a block is first set-up or replanted.”

The benefits of BMP aren’t just environmental. In fact, there’s a very real cost-benefit to growers who improve their methods.

“You may not see that in the first year, but over a period of time, it becomes apparent,” said Mr Mayers.

“If you can retain your top soil, your best soil, it’s the best outcome for your farm.

“When it comes to nutrient management, if you can have the same production and reduce your nutrient input, you’re saving money. Who doesn’t want to save money?”

Over the past few years, it’s become apparent that innovation is needed along with a wider uptake of BMP.

Involvement in the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project, funded by the Queensland Government, is just one of the ways the industry is moving in this direction.

The MIP works with all landholders in the Wet Tropics as well as the wider community.

It aims to increase understanding of the effects of different management practices and provide monitoring on a larger scale.

More than that, though, it will allow the ABGC to better target extension work, increase practice change and pilot innovative actions for the banana industry.

As an extension officer, Mr Mayers’ job is about ensuring growers feel comfortable and confident in making positive change.

He points out that there are helpful resources online through the ABGC website, as well as in hard copy.

The BetterBunch app is also a useful tool in working towards on-farm change and, in some cases, funding is available through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust III program to assist with implementation.

Mr Mayers himself, along Sarah Simpson and Dale Bennett, are available to answer questions and act as conduits to the right information. Currently, they’re developing workshops and plans to help growers better design farms for sediment management.

“I can see that this work is of significant benefit to banana growers,” Mr Mayers said.

“Even though I’m not growing anymore, I’m still very passionate about the industry.”

The Reef Report Card for 2017 will be released in late 2018.