Farmers cop reefing

Great Barrier Reef regulations in spotlight in regions


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Northern growers say they feel like 'whipping boys' as hearings are held about strengthening regulations to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

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CONCERNED: Cairns region Canegrowers chairman Stephen Calcagno says enthusiasm for innovation in the industry is waning amid shifting expectations.

CONCERNED: Cairns region Canegrowers chairman Stephen Calcagno says enthusiasm for innovation in the industry is waning amid shifting expectations.

CANEGROWERS from across North Queensland have presented a united voice against strengthening reef regulations, saying they feel like the environmentalists' whipping boys.

Cairns region Canegrowers chairman Stephen Calcagno said farmers were growing resentful of the continually shifting goal posts when it came to regulations surrounding protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

"Growers are getting to the stage where we are worried it will kill off innovation and enthusiasm," Mr Calcagno said.

"The goal posts are changing all the time, we get a new set of standards to work toward and people are voicing their resentment that it's just never enough.

"Just when we think we have something to work to, and the incentives are there to protect the environment, lobby groups get involved and growers feel like the whipping boy for all of this."

Mr Calcagno said the feeling was not confined to cane growers alone but was filtering through the all agricultural industries.

"There is a failure to acknowledge the good work that has already been done."

Mr Calcagno, who farms 400ha at Bellenden Kerr with his son Luke, said growers were signing up to the voluntary Smartcane BMP program and a shift was occurring in the industry.

He said about 50 per cent of growers in the Innisfail and Tully areas had signed up to the BMP, while Cairns was sitting at around 25pc.

"When you delve into the demographics around BMP, a significant majority of accredited growers are younger, they are the future of the industry as people retire and move on," Mr Calcagno said.

"We're at a tipping point with BMP as people exit the business these growers are stepping up and implementing best practices on their family land and everyone reaps the benefits.

"Having a knee jerk reaction now with more regulation when they haven't seen the full effect of voluntary best management will kill of enthusiasm for the program.

"Growers who were very much engaged have moved to a position of 'why bother.'

"That's the dangerous thing when you start regulating too heavily."

Hearings to discuss the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 are being held in four key catchment areas this week, including Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg.

The bill aims to improve water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef and will strengthen regulations for cane, banana, horticulture, grain and grazing properties in all reef regions from Cape York to the Burnett.

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