Reef project helps growers reduce run-off

Grower Satinderjit Sing Gill works with Soil Conservationist Darryl Evans to design contours on his farm. This work was funded by the Reef Trust III program.
Grower Satinderjit Sing Gill works with Soil Conservationist Darryl Evans to design contours on his farm. This work was funded by the Reef Trust III program.

By Amelia Foster, BMP Coordinator

Banana growers are leading the way to reduce sediment and nutrient leaving their farms to help secure the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. With the Reef Trust III Project coming to an end, the last of 50 projects are now being finalised.

The Reef Trust III project ran for three years across the Great Barrier Reef catchments. The project was delivered via the Reef Alliance which brought together 14 industry bodies, regional NRM bodies and the conservation sector with a common goal of assisting to secure the future health of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as supporting an engaged and prosperous community.

The banana industry target was for 43 projects and we well and truly over-delivered! Individual growers were provided 50% funding of up to $15,000 for projects that allowed them to adopt industry best practice, minimising losses of soil, fertiliser and pesticides from their farms.

Grower Lakhbir Atwal – ‘Lucky’ – was assisted to upgrade his irrigation to an automated fertigation system which incorporated soil moisture monitoring, and to purchase a slasher to help improve his ground cover. Lucky said that his new side throw slasher would throw grass back onto the banana beds, improving his soil structure and health, and lead to less leaching due to a better nutrient holding capacity. Time will tell if Lucky’s aim of increasing the number of worms in his soil will be successful.

The Reef Trust III project allowed for innovative projects that tried new ways of improving water quality. Banana farmer Mark Nucifora identified an issue with ground cover on his farm and chose to trial a solution that involved replacing the tyres on his bagging machine with tracks. Over an extended period of time ABGC Extension Officer, Dale Bennett, and Soil Conservationist, Darryl Evans, monitored the impact of this change against control rows where Mark continued to use a traditional bagging machine.

Matt and Ben Abbott purchased a pivoting-head slasher for use on their farm to reduce the time needed to slash their inter-rows.

Banana growers have embraced the opportunities that the RTIII project has provided and are keen participants in projects that allow them to farm more sustainably. The banana industry leads the way in improved practices, with less nutrients being applied than 20 years ago and significant changes in inter-row management. Growers do not want to waste fertiliser by applying too much just to have it wash off, and they do not want to see the most productive soil leave their farm. They are farming for the long term and for future generations.

Banana growers continue to demonstrate their willingness to improve sustainability on their farms and as one program finishes, another one starts.

The ABGC has secured additional funding of $1M from the Queensland Government, via the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, which will allow banana farmers to access extension support and financial assistance to build or upgrade infrastructure and undertake projects that directly reduce sediment and nutrient run off.

Reef Trust III helped secure:

• 6 GPSes

• 2 slashers

• 10 fertiliser spreaders

• 21 automated fertigation systems

• 11 sediment reducing projects including silt traps and earthworks