Proposed QLD Water Quality Regulations

PROPOSED QLD WATER QUALITY REGULATIONS

Information for banana growers

The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill was passed on September 19 2019.

This activates a transitional period for new Reef protection measures to be implemented over the next three years depending upon where you farm. If you farm on Cape York, the minimum standards will not apply. The standards will apply in 12 months (from late December 2020) if you farm in the Wet Tropics and in three years if you farm in other regions within the Great Barrier Reef lagoon (December 22). Record keeping requirements start immediately. 

Prior to the Bill passing, the Queensland Government announced some new commitments, including for those growers affected by Panama disease tropical race 4.

While the industry remains committed to containing this disease, the Bill now allows a simplified process for growers relocating due to TR4.

Negotiations with the Queensland Government have also resulted in other, practical improvements to the regulations which are detailed below (under Draft standards for banana cultivation). 

Better outcomes needed on unworkable aspects of Bill

The passing of the bill does not mean all details are finalised. This is particularly the case when it comes to rules for proposed greenfield sites. 

The Queensland Government has determined that new farms over 100 hectares will need to undergo a ‘site specific’ assessment before production can commence. For new farms that are between 5 hectares and 99 hectares, a standard application will apply. The Department is yet to advise what the standards will be and the ABGC continues to negotiate for practical outcomes. 

Consultation will soon begin on the details for greenfield sites and it is more important than ever that we advocate for a sensible outcome for our industry.

As it stands, any new horticultural development on property already owned by growers and on future farms, that doesn’t have a history of cropping, will be classified as new Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity. The ABGC believes that means farmers will be required to implement expensive and impractical measures that fail to take into account location, landscape or climatic conditions. This could jeopardize Queensland’s banana industry and could severely restrict future economic development.

Growers are committed to farming in a responsible and sustainable way. Many of you have – and continue – to contribute countless hours and lots of money to improving water quality on your farm. 

The ABGC will continue to argue this point and highlight the devastating impact the excessive farm design standards for greenfield sites could have on our industry by restricting future horticulture development and regional development as a whole.

What this means for you

  • Queensland growers need to check out the Agricultural ERA standard for banana cultivation and the prescribed method for bananas (also below) to see if their current farming practices are in line with or superior to the minimum standards. This applies specifically to nitrogen and phosphorous rates and sediment and erosion control.
  •  If your farming practice is below these standards, the ABGC extension team can help you plan to improve. If you live in the Wet Tropics, you have until December 2020 to comply before there is any risk of being audited by a compliance officer from the Department of Environment and Science. You can use this time to make changes on your farm and increase your productivity.
  • However, the record keeping requirements apply immediately.  The BetterBunch app (in the App Store and Google Play) has been designed to simplify record keeping. View record keeping requirements on pages 7 and 8 here.   
  • Continue to check out the ABGC website where information specific to the banana industry will be updated as the details of the prescribed minimum standards are finalised. 
  • The ABGC will keep you updated regarding any new developments when it comes to greenfield sites.

To discuss your next steps or to download the BetterBunch record keeping app, please call the ABGC’s Extension Team on 07 4015 2797 and ask for Rob, Amelia or Dale.

Draft standards for banana cultivation 

The Department of Environment and Science has released an updated version of the standards for banana cultivation (the ‘Regs’) for review and comment.  There is also now a DRAFT Prescribed method for Bananas with more practical guidance to banana farmers in Reef catchments. 

Any advisors whom you pay to provide you with property specific advice will need to keep records of their advice. 

These two documents include significant improvements since the original drafts provided to industry back in 2017.  The original standards included compulsory upper limits for nitrogen of 250 kg/ha/year for plant and 350 kg/ha/year for ratoon and phosphorous of 60 kg/ha/year with no ability to adapt for individual farms.  They also included highly prescriptive measures to reduce sediment loss.

The ABGC, alongside a group of interested growers, has been working closely with the Department to ensure that the regulations better acknowledge the different farming situations, experience and practicalities within our industry.

The current draft standard now allows growers to apply nitrogen at 280 kg/ha/year for plant crops and 400 kg/ha/year for ratoon crops and 60 kg/ha/year for phosphorus without the need for a nutrient management plan.  If a grower wants to exceed these rates they must develop and use a nutrient management plan, based on regular leaf testing in line with current best practice recommendations.  The ABGC will continue to recommend that all growers use a nutrient management planning process on their farm.

Previously the Department proposed that leaf test results for nitrogen and phosphorous linked to increased or decreased amounts of N.  Growers provided feedback that this was not practical as it didn’t allow for growers to monitor trends.  The latest version uses a simplified approach to determine when extra nitrogen can be used.  The cut-off for nitrogen concentration levels is now 3.5% in leaf tests. Check out pages 10-11 of the methodology for more information.

The minimum standards for sediment loss control have also undergone significant evolution to better reflect farming realities.   An allowance has been made to include the ability to renovate rows as necessary.  The requirement for 60% ground cover in new blocks now applies prior to the wet season, acknowledging the need for growers to have time to establish ground cover in these blocks.

Growers have been given more flexibility in how they minimise soil and surface runoff to reduce erosion, with the specific measures now given as recommendations

There still remains some areas of concern within the documents.  These include the retention of the need to keep records about yield.  ABGC and growers have expressed concern about the way this information might be used and how yield in bananas is not a simple measure like it is in other industries.  Additionally, it would appear that a nutrient management plan must be written by a person external to the grower.  We know that there will be some growers that have the training and experience to write their own plans and we would like this to be an acceptable practice. Departmental officers are considering these representations with a resolution expected soon. 

New Cropping and Horticulture Development

More information

If you want more information on the minimum standards for banana growers,  please contact Michelle McKinlay, Industry Strategy Manager, ABGC on 07 32784786 or by email at michelle@abgc.org.au.

If you want to make contact with the relevant government officers, you can email officeofthegbr@des.qld.gov.au with your comments or concerns.

ABGC Media Releases 

Background 

The Queensland Government tabled a Bill in Parliament on 27 February that will impact on several industries including bananas, cane and grazing.

The regulations set out to establish ‘minimum standards’ for maximum nutrient application rates, the placement of fertiliser, erosion and sediment control measures and new approval processes for new farming developments.