Banana growers urge Queensland Government to reconsider regulation

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) has warned the Queensland Government that proposed additional reef regulations for land already owned by growers could have devastating impacts for the $600m industry.

The proposal would classify new horticultural development – on both current and future banana farms – as a new Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA).

The ABGC understands and welcomes the need for measures to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The Banana Industry has worked closely with the Department of Environment and Science on proposed minimum sediment and nutrient standards and has a range of initiatives in place to improve farm practices and water quality. 

However, the additional, proposed blanket ERA provisions go above and beyond these standards, requiring farmers to implement expensive and impractical measures on land they already own. The provisions fail to take into account location, landscape or climatic conditions and it is the ABGC’s firm belief that they would not only have a negative impact on banana growing, but fail to do anything further for the Reef. 

“Though we have tried to communicate this to the Queensland Government both in writing and face-to-face, it would appear that our views on the development of current grazing land in North Queensland are either not understood or are simply being ignored,” ABGC chair Stephen Lowe said. 

“The Government’s proposal is to restrict new horticultural development on land that has not had horticulture or other crops on it 3 years out of the last 10 with at least one of these in the last 5 years.

“This proposal to make horticultural production an Environmentally Relevant Activity (an ERA) would restrict future horticultural development and sends the wrong message to our rural communities. It shows the Queensland Government is not supporting future rural economic development.”

If introduced, the ABGC has told Government the provisions would result in serious profitability and sustainability issues on grazing land within existing banana farms and on other land that has been bought for the production of bananas or other horticulture. On top of that, they would hinder future innovation and diversification in the banana industry that directly and indirectly supports 18,000 jobs in North Queensland and has a flow on value of $1.2b.

The ABGC also notes that such a proposed ERA would be applied retrospectively, six months after the Bill is passed in Parliament.

“It’s unfair to regulate conditions of how land can be used and what approvals will be required after freehold land has been purchased,” Mr Lowe said. 

“I am also concerned that there is nothing to stop the goal posts being moved on a political whim. Endless delays to the approval process – where no decisions could be made either way – would also be disastrous for banana growers.” 

The ABGC has suggested that, instead of the proposed ERA, the new minimum nutrient and sediment standards be applied to all existing freehold land, regardless of whether it has previously been developed for horticulture. No matter the parcel of land or its history, the ABGC believes that this approach will best complement existing Best Management Practice farming systems. This is the best way to achieve the desired result of no net decline in the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.

“The proposed ERA simply seems to ignore the realities of farming – be it varying climates, the fact that most banana growers have diversified to combat natural disasters and disease, or even just the long-term planning involved in keeping a farming business afloat,” Mr Lowe said. 

“We’ve developed a good working relationship with the Queensland Government over the years, but on this issue the Government has taken ill-informed advice from the environmental movement. I urge the Government to reconsider its position. 

“I know many growers would happily welcome representatives onto their farms to demonstrate the very real ways decisions like this could affect farming into the future.”