Tableland growers show BMP fits all sizes
Rajinder Singh, Claude Santucci and John Dixon represent very
different farming operations – a large family-owned farm business, a
smaller family farm and the Tableland mill owner MSF Sugar with its
2,750 hectares of cane farmland in the region. All are now accredited in the Smartcane BMP three core modules and received their certificates from local facilitator John Barbetti.
accreditation proves that a business is operating sustainability and
responsibly meeting economic, social and environmental needs,” Rajinder
has 241 hectares under cane on a farm which drains west away from the Great Barrier Reef.
"Reef regulations are not a driving force," he said of his motivation to be accredited. "The benefits of BMP are much wider. Growers should rise to the challenge and prove beyond doubt that our industry is world class in both growing operations and environmental impacts."
Claude, a move by big sugar customers such as Coca Cola to give
preference to sugar with sustainable production credentials was a
of the people we sell sugar to now are demanding environmentally
sustainable production methods and that will probably only get more
intense as time progresses,” he said. “So I thought if this is the
future, I will jump on the bandwagon early.”
family produces around 11,000 tonnes of cane a year from two farms.
"We're in the Barron River catchment which all flows down into the
Great Barrier Reef,” Claude
said. “We have to accept our responsibilities to the environment. A voluntary system like
BMP where the grower and industry have more say in how we manage it is
better than the authorities telling us what to do and how to do it.”
Rajinder see the benefits of Smartcane BMP in their
day to day farming operations.
farm input records are the heart of it and this data is key to
making good business decisions,” said Rajinder who cuts 120
t/ha on his farm but has a goal of 140 t/ha.
Sugar too has a target of improving yield from 200,000 tonnes or 87
t/ha this season to 250,000 tonnes by 2020. The company says that to
achieve its business objectives it needs to improve in all areas and
Smartcane BMP helps to prioritise decisions.
“For a business focused on maximising productivity and profitability, a BMP is the first essential step,” Rajinder said.
Changing the public perception of cane farming
Having completed the three core modules of Smartcane BMP, Cairns Region grower Stephen Calcagno wants the public to get a new understanding of the respect farmers have for Queensland’s unique World Heritage assets. He believes the best way for that to happen is through farmers supporting the industry-driven best management practice program to accreditation.
"I’ve been here all my life," Stephen says. "I’ve seen no deterioration in creeks, I’ve seen them actually thriving. We’ve changed a lot over the years and farmers have got really proactive."
Stephen believes Smartcane BMP is the best tool farmers have at their disposal to prove that they are minimising the loss of nutrient, pesticide and sediment into the Great Barrier Reef catchment.
"The more who do it, the more it puts our industry in a favourable light with the community. We’ve got to prove to everyone that we’re doing the right thing by the reef."
Good drainage management is crucial for Stephen in his high rainfall environment and riparian zones, silt traps and grassed headlands slow water flow keeping nutrient, herbicide and sediment on his farms.
Stephen keeps accurate records of activities such as nutrient applications and cultivation with the GPS on his farm machinery downloading events onto a computer program and he’s two years into a process of switching his farms over to a single-row 1.8 metre controlled traffic farming system which is reducing soil compaction and the potential for erosion.
"If you can fix up the soil health then you’ll have the optimum take-up of nutrients, a healthy root system and healthy plant that’ll utilise the nutrients that you’ve put in and will minimise any loss running off," Stephen says.
Nutrients are applied using the Six Easy Steps principles and placed sub-surface with a stool-splitting fertiliser box.
As Stephen sees it, there’s much at stake for growers given the importance of a productive, profitable and environmentally sustainable sugar industry to the Queensland’s regional economy.
"Everyone makes an impact, it’s just trying to minimise the impact that you do make," he said. "At the end I’ve still got to run a productive business for the sake of me, for the sake of the towns because financially, even if I’m not making money the farmers are keeping a lot of the towns up and down the state going, keeping people in jobs and money turning over."
BMP helps grower track inputs
In October 2015 Neil Kingston took up the challenge to gain Smartcane BMP accreditation for his farming operation at Cordalba and over several months worked with his wife Gaylene to complete all of the core modules.
In March 2016, their business became the first to be accredited in the Isis Mill area. It was quickly followed by accreditations for Tim Baldwin of South Kolan and Noel Johnson from the Alloway district.
Neil sees the BMP process as a useful way to reassure governments and the community that farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously.
“Most growers work hard to look after their land and to avoid causing any problems downstream,” he said. “Most of us already have in place many of the records and practices that are required for BMP accreditation."
It took him two days to enter the necessary information about sprays, fertiliser and cultivation from his notebooks into a spreadsheet that local BMP Facilitator Bruce Quinn had developed.
“It is a simple and practical tool that helps growers meet the requirements for accreditation but is also a great way to keep records into the future,” Neil said.
He has found the spray recording sheets particularly useful as a way of keeping track of the products applied to different blocks and monitoring the effectiveness of each.
“Other than improving our farm record system to meet the auditor’s requirements, the only other thing that was identified as needing immediate action was to upgrade our chemical storage facility,” he said.
“For growers who also grow horticultural crops, the process should be fairly straight forward as the records kept for programs like FreshCare can be used to meet the requirements of Smartcane BMP,” he said.
Accreditation secures a farming future
More than half of Queensland’s sugarcane production area is now benchmarked in the Smartcane BMP program with hundreds of farms moving towards accreditation to join the 77 which already have their certificates.
CANEGROWERS Innisfail Chairman Joe Marano is urging growers to push through to accreditation just as he has.
“Firstly, if you’re going to stand up in front of growers and tell them they should do it, you should do it yourself,” he says.
The other reasons are personal with his son Daniel now working with him across 417 hectares of owned and leased land, Joe says Smartcane BMP will be a licence to farm in the future.
“I have family that wants to continue farming so it’s not about me anymore,” he says. “It’s about letting them have the right to farm by proving we meet all the environmental and sustainability requirements."
With two of them doing the work, Joe says BMP is helping keep track of what’s going on to make sure nothing is being forgotten or missed in a busy work schedule.
“You also don’t want to be doubling up so the record keeping means you can make effective use of everyone’s time,” he says. “Having my son on the farm has certainly helped us expand and try to become better growers."
Joe says his own list of farming challenges shows that growers don’t have to have everything worked out, implemented and finalised to be accredited in the three core modules.
“Take controlled traffic,” he says. “It takes six years to implement fully but the important thing is that most of your machinery matches your row widths.”
The other thing he’s worried about is growers shying away because they self-assess themselves out of it.
“My key message is don’t audit yourself!” he says. “You might find you are already doing something similar to Smartcane BMP so talk to your local facilitator.”
Joe firmly believes Smartcane BMP will help sugarcane farming be around for a long time.
“We need to be ahead of the game so that governments and environmentalists can’t accuse us of doing harm to the reef - we need to prove we are not,” he says.
“Smartcane BMP does take time and money and some of us are unaccustomed to this but it is a small price to pay for living in the best part of the world along the east coast of Queensland - we need to set this up for future generations."
BMP drives greater farm efficiency
Efficiency gains for improved productivity have come hand in hand with environmental sustainability for Innisfail farmers Morrie and Jeanette Spina.
They’ve recently been accredited in the three core modules of Smartcane BMP, the industry’s best management practice program.
Morrie and Jeanette have 150 hectares of cane across three farms including one tucked behind houses within stone’s throw of the Innisfail central business district.
In the 2015 season they cut 12,800 tonnes of cane for an average CCS of 12 across the three farms.
Jeanette says the Smartcane BMP accreditation process made them look at their farming operation differently and identify efficiencies.
With a plant nursery business to run as well, there’s not a lot spare time to be had in Morrie and Jeanette’s working schedule.
“We looked at everything,” Jeanette says. “Fuel and time especially - how many times Morrie would pass up and down a row was a big thing to try to cut down.”
“We were trying to be as efficient as we could as farmers because we’re not getting big money for our cane and I was probably already doing half of the record-keeping we needed for accreditation,” Morrie says.
In many cases they’ve found changes which have given them cost or time efficiencies have also had environmental gains.
For example, fewer passes through the paddocks of Q200, Q250, Q251 and Q247 mean less soil disturbance affecting soil and crop health.
Guinea grass is a constant problem but moving from broad-scale spraying to spot spraying means less chemical is being used for a better result.
“We do the spot-spraying with a quad bike which uses a lot less fuel than the tractor and just a little bit of poison rather than spraying a lot out up high,” Jeanette says.
“We no longer wait for the guinea grass to get high,” Morrie adds. “I can jump on the quad bike when it’s small and it takes less time.”
With two of the farms on the banks of Bamboo Creek and the North Johnstone River they are very aware of the off-farm impacts of their farming practices. Subsurface application of fertilisers ensures that expensive input stays where it needs to – in the crop.
“Morrie re-built our fertiliser box to make it bigger and higher to hold more fertiliser so he doesn’t have to come back to the shed as often which saves fuel,” Jeanette says.
Smartcane BMP accreditation has been the latest step in their drive for production efficiency and environmental best practice which has already seen them work with Terrain NRM and the Australian Government Reef Programme (formerly Reef Rescue) to install GPS equipment for controlled traffic farming, acquire a bed renovator and high rise sprayer. “We did Smartcane BMP to be as cost efficient per unit of production as we can while at the same time looking after the environment,” Morrie said. “In our area, farmers are the best conservationists there are because of what we get for our cane, we can’t afford to be wasting time or money.”
BMP: pathway to a prosperous future
Damien and Jodie Borg are relatively new to the lifestyle and business of cane farming as independent adults and as such, they are planning to do everything right on their Plane Creek district farm.
That’s why they’ve gained accreditation for their business, Borg Family Farming, in the three core modules of Smartcane BMP.
While Damien grew up on a cane farm with parents Kevin and Anna-Maria, he chose as a young adult to pursue a trade and work as a diesel fitter in the mining industry. He decided to move back to agriculture for family and lifestyle.
“We got tired of the mining lifestyle and being away from home – I wanted to spend more time with my family,” Damien said. He and Jodie have two small children.
Once the decision was made, Damien leased a 180 hectare dryland property in 2010.
“We designed the layout right from the start to suit farming, keeping harvesting practices and drainage in mind,” he said. “We are now into our fourth season and this foresight has well and truly paid off in terms of the farm’s efficiencies.”
As a part of a growing younger set taking up cane growing or returning to it, Damien is typical in that he is keen to be proactive in his pursuit of the business’s future profitability and sustainability.
“I’ve received a lot of guidance from neighbouring farmers, and of course my father who is a third generation cane grower,” he says.
Deciding to sign up for the Smartcane BMP (Best Management Practice) program was easy.
“BMP today is just a part of being a farmer,” Damien says. “The mining industry is steeped in regulations to balance the protection of workers and the viability of the business while maintaining and protecting the environment – I see no difference with being a cane farmer as these ends are the same we want to achieve.
“With BMP it’s not just about what you are doing today. A lot of it is about where we want to be in the future – if there is a premium to be paid on accredited sugar, I want to be a part of that.”
Damien admits to being a bit daunted at first by the Smartcane BMP program.
“It has become a lot easier and the program has been even further streamlined. It’s also really comforting to know that there is a lot of support along the way.
“One of the things I do appreciate now is the amount of thought the program stimulates – for instance, the program has really validated the Six Easy Steps for me.”
Damien has 1.85m rows across his farm, which he says is critical for controlled traffic to minimise compaction, lower costs including fuel, and for savings in time by spending much less of it in the paddock.
Cutting down on nitrogen losses and battling cane grubs is achieved with the use of granular fertiliser and Confidor, both of which are put under the ground at the same time using a double disc opener stool splitter and covered with a press wheel.
“We also have GPS guidance in all of our tractors and this increases our efficiency and accuracy including in record keeping,” Damien says.
“Our harvester operator loves it - we’re cutting harvesting losses, reducing fuel costs and saving time. He’s really impressed with the significant difference it makes.”
Damien said he had heard a few growers say they were worried about the amount of time that the Smartcane BMP program would mean spending on a computer.
“I tell them they really don’t have to be concerned because that’s not the case at all,” he says.
An added bonus is that BMP doesn’t mean everyone has to farm the same way. You can still farm the way you want to within the BMP guidelines.
“Dad and I quite often have different ideas and opinions about how to do some things, but both ways are always still within BMP practices and we are both Smartcane BMP accredited,” Damien says.
“The Smartcane BMP program isn’t hard, and it may sound harsh, but the reality is that it’s our future.”
As a younger farmer, Damien has his sights firmly set on that future. His goal is to expand and grow more cane.
“We’ll be hoping to expand as soon as we can,” he says. “We intend to keep on farming because we like it, and it is great lifestyle and environment in which to bring up our kids.”
Herbert grower proves a point with BMP
Herbert River district grower Frank Russo believes he’s defied industry critics who labelled cane farmers ‘dinosaurs’ by gaining best practice accreditation in the three core modules of Smartcane BMP.
As Frank recalls, it all began with a visiting public servant from a government department once telling “dinosaur” cane farmers in the Ingham region to change or, “get out of the industry”.
That comment motivated him to prove he was not only up for the challenge of achieving best practice but also that a lot of what he’d been doing for a long time was already hitting the mark.
“I had to do it just to prove that I was not a dinosaur and even the old dinosaurs can comply with all the new rules and regulations,” Frank said.
“We have been laser levelling for years, we already make spoon drains. We already trash blanket, we already zero till. We are already doing it.”
He says the progressive shift to green cane harvesting in the Ingham district, which started 30 years ago, is an example of how the industry has worked to deliver improved environmental outcomes.
“Because of the mulching, conserving moisture and all the benefits that go with green cane, you don’t cultivate so you don’t get erosion, you don’t get soil runoff plus the trash rots and breaks down and becomes a nutrient,” he said.
There’s an obvious parallel with the current emphasis on keeping agricultural inputs on farm. As Frank sees things, a steady, progressive shift to improved practices in nutrient, chemical and sediment management will benefit both the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.
“Our two biggest expenses outside of harvesting on our farms is chemical and fertiliser,” he said. “We want to use the minimum amount that we need to grow our crop and we want it to stay on our farm.”
The Smartcane BMP program has been crafted so as not to be prescriptive, which suits Frank. He tried controlled traffic farming on a dual row 1.8 metre spacing 20 years ago but didn’t achieve productivity gains over a full growing cycle.
Frank uses a minimal till system, most machinery wheel tracks are set to match the row spacing and equipment is operated under GPS guidance. It ticks the Smartcane BMP boxes for minimising compaction and tillage management.
Frank was thankful for the assistance of Herbert River Smartcane BMP facilitator Maria Battoraro in helping collect the information and records he needed to secure accreditation.
Frank would rather live without any form of regulation, be it industry driven or enforced regulation but in the absence of a choice, his message to fellow growers is that if a ‘dinosaur’ can become Smartcane BMP accredited, so can they.
“The only thing that a lot of my fellow growers have got to start to understand is that the rules are there whether we like it or not and I don’t like it as much as the next bloke,” Frank said. “But at the end of the day I don't think they’re going to change them in a hurry.
“We haven’t got a choice to say whether we comply or not because the gun’s been put at our head with a live round in it and it’s been cocked.
“To stay Smartcane BMP accredited, the way we are now, is the best.”
Mackay growers show BMP fits all farms
Two recently accredited Mackay growers have shown that there is no 'one size fits all' approach in the sugarcane industry’s best management practice program, Smartcane BMP.
Local facilitator John Turner guided Tony Bartolo and Wayne Peach through their registration, self-assessment and evidence gathering activities and says the exercise proved that best practice is different on different farms.
“Both of these growers are farming under very different circumstances,” he said. “Tony is on irrigated flat straight drills and Wayne has hilly, contoured dryland country but both had a desire to check their farming practices against Smartcane BMP.
“It was a pleasure to work with two growers who had an understanding of environmental issues while striving to reduce their impact off farm."
Tony Bartolo farms 120 hectares at Rosella, just south of Mackay.
“As an industry we need to advocate our sustainable management of the natural resources in our control and which we use to produce a product that is exported worldwide,” he said.
Tony believes improving the quality of water leaving farms is paramount to the protection of oceans for future generations.
“Living in Mackay means we spend a lot of time on the water and reef fishing is my favourite pastime.”
A tail water sediment trap that catches a large portion of the farm’s runoff and Tony has worked hard to fine tune farm inputs – to reduce environmental impact while maintaining or boosting production.
“Granular products are applied sub-surface using side dress coulters on the ratoons and the plant cane dresser is a reversed trash incorporator which applies fertiliser and hills up in one pass.”
Tony has been converting his farm to GPS controlled traffic on 1.8m rows and most of the farm has been laser levelled. Having limited access to groundwater which, because of his proximity to the coast, can at times be quite salty has influenced a move to low pressure overhead irrigation. Tony currently has two booms and when BioDunder is applied, it is gently watered into the soil within four days of application.
“This should return a good result on the current crop which is averaging about 100 tonnes per hectare against the Mackay average of about 70 tonnes,” Tony estimates.
Wayne Peach and his wife Sharon bought their 92 hectare farm from his parents in 1990 and 60 hectares is planted to cane. Wayne admits to being surprised at being one of the first two growers in the Mackay area to be accredited.
“I had to do a few things to get through but I knew I had to do them anyway,” he says of getting his dryland farm through the Smartcane BMP process.“I guess it inspired me to get my act together and our facilitator John Turner made it all fairly painless.”
The farm has undulating blocks and light soils. It’s a combination that makes it prone to erosion, a factor that prompted Wayne to move to zonal tillage on 1.83m centres.
“This is only my second year but the bit of rain we did have had didn’t produce the erosion that I would normally have seen,” he said.
Wayne is seeing time and fuel saving now that his tractors have now all had their wheel spacings converted - one of the tasks he needed to complete to meet the Smartcane BMP requirements. Putting in a chemical shed was another thing on his list.
And while he’d been keeping paper records, Wayne has recently upgraded his computer skills and started using the AgDat program to record his chemical usage.
“The next thing will be to move to using a mobile phone in the paddock and uploading the information because even though I don’t have GPS in my tractors it will use the GPS in my phone," he said.
Northern growers achieve Smartcane accreditation
A CANEGROWERS policy council member who wants to silence the cane industry’s critics and a relatively new grower are the latest farmers to be accredited in the best management practice program, Smartcane – in the process proving they are world class producers of quality, sustainable sugar.
Burdekin grower Russell Jordan and Herbert River grower Walter Giordani have completed and been audited in the three modules: Soil Health and Plant Nutrition; Pest, Disease and Weed Management; and Drainage and Irrigation management.
Russell Jordan (pictured holding his certificate) says Smartcane BMP means he can show he is caring for the Great Barrier Reef while producing around 30,000 tonnes of quality cane from four irrigated farms at Giru.
“When we cop criticism, we can now put this up as proof we are doing the right thing as an industry,” he said.
And for him, it was definitely worth finding the time around farm work and family to pull together the evidence the process needed – with early mornings proving to be the best time.
“We keep good records of what we do so I just had to sit down in spare moments, a little bit each day,” he said. “I found getting up half an hour earlier with a coffee before the kids woke up worked for me.
"And as a Policy Council Member and CANEGROWERS Burdekin director, if we’re telling growers to do it, we should be doing it,” Russell said of his decision to push through and be audited.
For Walter Giordani, who with his
wife Nadine has 100 hectares over two farms at Bambaroo, the Smartcane BMP modules were a way of checking that they were on the right track with their farming practices and plans.
“I’m a relatively new grower as it’s only in the past six years that we bought our farms and expanded so I’m keen to adopt and implement any best management practices,” he said.
“We’re already going down the path of controlled traffic and wider row spacings and this has cemented the ideas we’ve had for our business and confirmed the direction we’re heading in.
“We saw a lot of value in doing it,” he said. “It was a team effort with Nadine doing most of the entries into the Smartcane BMP website – she did all the hard work on the computer!”
While Walter and Nadine have been accredited as already meeting industry best practice, they have plans to improve further when budgets and finances allow.
Having now achieved his accreditation in the three key modules, Russell is encouraging everyone who’s registered with Smartcane BMP to continue on to be audited as well.
“It wasn’t too hard really,” he says.“I’d encourage everyone to go and see their local facilitator who’ll put them on the right track with a list of things to do and then just work through it.”
Smartcane BMP Project
Manager Mick Quirk says BMP is important for a number of reasons - it can help identify the practices that are most likely to improve efficiency, production and profitability while demonstrating to our communities and overseas customers that our sugar is sustainable, and help Australia maintain a competitive edge.
“Many Queensland growers have registered and done the self-assessment stage, now we are seeing many of them start to move towards seeking accreditation,” he said.
Records in your pocket with the new Smartcane app
A new app to allow growers to collect and upload farm records using just a phone has been unveiled at the Next Gen Step Up! conference at Palm Cove.
The app links directly to the Smartcane BMP platform and automatically updates the growers’ records within the system. Matt Kealley, CANEGROWERS Senior Manager – Environment, and Malcolm Petrie, the Smartcane Project Manager, unveiled the app to the 160 conference delegates with a live demonstration on a big screen of how it works.
"The Smartcane app can capture your chemical application records, fertiliser records and other activities and practices you do on farm – it will save you time,” Matt Kealley saidd demonstrating how mobile technology has advanced quickly to become a valuable tool.
“The first mobile phone call was made in 1973. Move ahead 40 years and we have mobile devices in our pockets that don’t just make phone calls, they are portable computers with more computing power than Apollo 11 had going to the moon,” he said.
“The first apps appeared on the market only seven years ago but in 2013, 102 billion of them were downloaded and 91% of those were free!”
The Smartcane app is free to registered Smartcane BMP growers.
Through intuitive menus, growers can add blocks, add records about the treatments used on those blocks and the records are then available with the touch of a button.
The records entered on the phone are automatically updated to the relevant Smartcane BMP account.
All records are securely stored and treated as confidential.
None are disclosed to a third party unless a request to do so is made by the grower.
The Smartcane BMP app can be downloaded now from Google Play for Android and the iTunes App store for Apple by searching for ‘smartcane records’.
My journey through Smartcane BMP
By Kevin Borg, Plane Creek cane grower and Chairman CANEGROWERS Mackay
When the industry-developed and managed Smartcane BMP (Best Management Practice) program first came into operation, I knew it would be a great alternative for the regulations already in place.
I also knew that it would not be easy, nor was it meant to be. So getting started and amid some negative hype around the program, I was quite apprehensive.
However I do want the world to recognise that I am a sustainable and responsible operator and I want to be able to say I am a Smartcane BMP accredited grower. By having convincing evidence of Best Management Practice operations I will be able to immediately lay to rest any views that imply that as a cane grower I am an environmental vandal.
I signed up for one of the first Smartcane BMP group workshop which was informative and the facilitators and support staff were able to answer our questions. They also were able to show us how to navigate the website and explained that I could also access the necessary material in hard copy if I did not want to do the program online. I made the personal decision to persevere with the website option.
After the workshop I began to gather the evidence I would need to progress. I managed to get together the easy to find documentation but stumbled when I needed to produce chemical and nutrient management plans.
I had kept chemical and fertiliser records for Reef Regulations, but sourcing them was cumbersome and frustrating because they were all over the place. Considering carefully the consequences of not continuing I eventually re-motivated myself to enter it into the one place - not so difficult after all.
I familiarised myself with the AgDat information storage program after hearing about its function at the initial workshop. While some of my information was initially not compatible, this won’t be a problem in the future as I am now aware of the requirements for this system. Once I had gathered the evidence required I saved it all on to a USB stick (although it is not necessary to provide your information this way, as it can be delivered or sent as hard copy also).
My internet connection at home is not fast enough to download onto the Smartcane BMP website so I delivered the USB stick to CANEGROWERS Mackay staff and they uploaded my evidence.
I am now waiting to be audited in the three key modules, which involves a farm visit and confirmation of the records and practices I have recorded. I feel confident that I will have sufficient evidence of operations to be accredited, but I will have to await the audit to find out.
If I do not have all the required evidence and more is required, I will persevere. Already I know that I am a lot closer to compliance and Best Management Practice than when I first started. I feel more in control of my future and I know now how and where to keep my records and the necessity to keep them up-to-date.
If anyone is contemplating not signing on for Smartcane BMP, I urge you to please re-think this stance. The very first step in registering for Smartcane BMP takes a couple of minutes, and once that's done you can take as long or as short a time as you need to achieve your accreditation.
While the next steps may be intense for some, you can be assured the future holds much more promise when you know that by maintaining your record keeping, you are showing your commitment to, and achieving, continuous sustainable Best Management Practice.
First farmer accredited in three key BMP modules
A spell of wet weather prompted Michael Pisano to become the first cane grower to be accredited in the three key Smartcane BMP modules.
The CANEGROWERS Herbert River Director and CANEGROWERS Policy Councillor was among the first farmers to register for the Smartcane BMP program. Now he’s the first to have been audited in the three key modules in the program (out of the seven that make up Smartcane BMP).
Michael didn’t have to change a thing about the way he farms; he just had to prove what he was doing.
“I’d done the initial workshop and then it sat there for about three months until we got some rainy weather and I decided to get stuck into it in the office,” Michael says. “We were already using the Best Management Practices on our farm. The biggest thing was coming to terms with all the recording that’s required and the evidence to show what we were doing.”
Michael admits he found the process but a bit tough. "But with the help of our local facilitator and others, we worked through it," he says.
“I had to formalise my nutrient and weed management plans but now that it's done I only have to update it each year. I think over 90% of the growers in this district could look through and see that their practices meet the requirements.”
Michael and Linda Pisano’s farm at Braemeadows, east of Ingham, has no irrigation and produces 6,500-7,000 tonne on average from around 90 hectares.
All machinery is on GPS with auto-steer and matched to the row spacings. Along with most growers in the Herbert River district, Michael made the switch to green cane cutting in the 1980s and has never looked back.
“It’s probably the biggest change in farming that I’ve seen that’s been of real benefit to us. If it’s too wet to harvest you can just leave it, the contractor can go somewhere else and comeback later.
“Trash blanketing keeps the moisture in during the dry parts of the year and in the wet season the soil doesn’t move. It also keeps grasses down - we hardly ever see narrow leaf weeds anymore. It’s just the broadleaf ones which sometimes get through.”
Michael says the trash and using a high-rise sprayer that helps him target weeds have meant his chemical usage has dropped dramatically over the past decade.
An Australian Government Reef Programme grant helped him and his nephew add stool splitters to their shared fertiliser box and Michael says generally one pass with it is enough. Funding has been secured through the latest round of the Programme for a hooded spray unit.
Meandering through Michael’s farm are wide grassy lanes with swales and wetlands, flourishing with reeds, insects and waterlilies and home to flocks of ducks and other waterbirds.
This is no haphazard arrangement; it was carefully designed under an 11 year program to amalgamate into one master plan all of the drainage across 14,500 hectares of farmland between Ingham and the ocean. New drainage lines were put in, wetlands were constructed and flood lifter pumps were installed to control, slow and filter the water.
Michael is the chairman of the Lower Herbert Water Management Authority, the statutory board which now manages the flow of water across the landscape and coordinates the maintenance of the drainage lines. He believes the master plan has been a major contributor to improved productivity.
“These drainage lines are protected by law and they act as a filter system for the water. The local council came on board because it could see the whole community benefits – it’s not just an agricultural benefit.”