– Jim Pekin
Since the 1990s, the banana industry has significantly improved practices and reduced the amount of nutrients leaving farms.
The industry is rightly proud of this, with 92% of land under production now benchmarked against the BMP Guidelines. This has been achieved voluntarily and without regulation. Growers know better than anyone that environmental best practice makes sense for their business, community and preserves the region they love for future generations.
In recent years, the banana industry has been the recipient of grants funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments to help implement that best practice on farm, as well as receiving additional State Government funding for BMP projects and research trials. Ideally, any future improvements would be achieved by working with growers to educate them about best practice and assist them to voluntarily implement this – rather than enforcing regulated minimum standards.
Farmers generally don’t like being told what to do on their farms, especially by Government. This is understandable, as their focus is on their business, family and the local community. Policy people in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra have other priorities.
However, the Queensland Government has decided to regulate banana growers’ fertilizer use and other farming practices. Indeed, the new sediment and nutrient prescribed minimum standards will apply in the main production area (excluding Cape York) from 1 December 2020.
No banana grower wants more regulation. They already spend many hours ensuring that their farming and business practices comply with a raft of different pieces of legislation. However, ABGC took the view that we would work with the Government, which has an election commitment on Reef regulations, to get the most appropriate outcomes for banana growers. If there must be regulation, then it should be practical and proven.
After consulting with members, the ABGC achieved alignment of the nutrient and sediment control provisions with the industry’s Best Management Practice Environmental Guidelines. This meant the regulated minimum standards have the greatest chance of being incorporated into existing production systems. The provisions are flexible enough to allow growers to farm as they need to – with evidence required for nutrient rates that are above the prescribed rates.
Just as the Queensland Government is requiring growers to keep evidence of their farming practices, it is reasonable to expect governments and policy makers to also make decisions based on evidence.
The ABGC recently provided a submission to the Federal Senate Committee’s Inquiry into evidence based regulation of farm practices on water quality on the reef. In the submission, the ABGC stated that banana growers must have better access to, understanding of, and confidence in the water quality data that is used in the models that describe the health of the reef. This does not currently exist, yet it should be an essential foundation for all policy and especially regulation. Ideally growers will be part of future effort to improve science based decision making. Collaboration, problem sharing and respect will be key ingredients for a future where the environment and industry can productively co-exist.
In regard to evidence, ABGC successfully requested that Department of Environment and Science fund a research project that considers the optimum level of nutrients to apply to banana plants. It will also examine the impact of nutrients leaving the farm by leaching.
The ABGC continues to strongly oppose any additional regulation that will impact on a grower’s ability to be profitable through banana production on new or expanded commercial cropping. The Queensland Government will commence a new round of consultation on this in the new year and ABGC will continue to represent the interests of the banana industry.