Banana growers call for rethink on impractical aspects of proposed Reef Regs

The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) is again calling on the Queensland Government to reconsider impractical aspects of the proposed reef regulations which could jeopardize the state’s banana industry and severely restrict economic development.

Of particular concern is that the regulations would classify new horticultural development – on property already owned by growers and on future farms – as new Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity.

These proposed, blanket ERA provisions require farmers to implement expensive and impractical measures that fail to take into account location, landscape or climatic conditions.

“While the ABGC and growers as a whole are committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef, it is our firm belief that this part of the proposed legislation not only contributes nothing to those efforts but could have a devastating impact on our $600 million industry and regional development as a whole,” 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 those in the last 5 years.

“This measure is simply restricting future horticultural development for no apparent gain. We continue to try and communicate this, but it seems our concerns for future economic development in the state’s north aren’t being heard.”

The ABGC’s key concerns with this aspect of the proposed regulations are:

·         That they would cause serious profitability and sustainability issues on grazing land within existing banana farms, and land that has been already purchased for horticultural development (bananas or otherwise)

·         That innovation and diversification within the banana industry would be stifled

·         That an industry that directly and indirectly supports 18,000 jobs in North Queensland and has a flow on value of $1.2b would be unnecessarily harmed

“The ABGC has worked closely with the Government on new minimum nutrient and sediment standards for all existing freehold land,” Mr Lowe said.

“The minimum standards will complement existing Best Management Practice farming systems and are the best way to ensure no net decline in the quality of water going to the Great Barrier Reef – which is the goal all parties are working towards.”

“Growers have already contributed countless hours and funds to improve water quality in the region they call home. What we really need here is for the Government to get on board, support extension and help growers make change.”

Mr Lowe said the nature of the proposal, and the fact that an ERA would be applied retrospectively, suggested the Government did not understand the realities of farming, nor the potentially disastrous consequences of endless delays to the approval process on a political whim.

“I sincerely hope the Queensland Government will reconsider its position before this bill has passed. The ABGC and the Government has a strong track record of working together. We all want to achieve the best possible outcome for the Great Barrier Reef. In this instance, we are simply urging the Government to allow us to do this in a practical way – a way that not only delivers results but doesn’t hinder the economic development of Far North Queensland.”