Farmers unite in reef fight

Reef regulations under fire in North


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Burdekin canegrower Owen Menkens says the regulations were over the top for the sugar industry.

Burdekin canegrower Owen Menkens says the regulations were over the top for the sugar industry.

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Farmers say new regulations designed to protect the Great Barrier Reef are impractical and will be another nail in the coffin for agriculture in Queensland.

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NEW regulations designed to protect the Great Barrier Reef have been slammed as being impractical and unachievable by graziers and growers in the North.

Public hearings were held in North Queensland last week to discuss the controversial Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019.

Hundreds of people, from farmers to tourism operators who attended the meetings were united in their desire to protect the reef, but farmers feel they are being unfairly targeted by the restrictive rules.

Elisha Parker joined with five other graziers in the Clermont region on the far western side of the reef catchments to raise her concerns, saying the legislation was completely unachievable.

"Cattle grazing, horticulture and cropping are specifically listed as environmentally regulated activities, with the same with same obligations as mining and industrial production," Ms Parker said.

"Graziers subject to a section where it is an offence to allow prescribed contaminants entering the water, which includes leaves and bark, and animal extreata and manure and dead animals."

She said that was impractical and in direct conflict with the Vegetation Management Act, which was introduced last year.

"The changes last year which locked up 1.7 million hectares, 460,000 of those hectares being in these reef catchments, meaning that took away our management for woodland thickening, erosion and increased ground cover.

"That also included a 50-metre exclusion zone along waterways, taking away our management along those waterways, increasing erosion. It was allegedly going to save the reef but is actually increasing sediment run-off."

Ms Parker said graziers would be required to have 70 per cent ground cover, which made no provisions for natural disasters and weather events such as flood, drought and fire.

"There is barely a parcel of land with more than 70 per cent ground cover, no run off, no leaves.

"It's just another nail in the coffin of agriculture, which is being made a complete scapegoat for the reef."

Australian Banana Growers Council chair Stephen Lowe said any regulations should be science based, with more on farm monitoring.

"Our main gist is we want it to be science based, with more on farm monitoring to show the nitrogen and phosphorous coming from our farms.

"The minimum standards must take into account farmers doing soil and leaf tissue tests of the crops to make sure they are getting the required nutrients.

"As farmers we don't want to put any more nutrients on to the crop than what is required, as it's an extra expense to farmers.

"In terms of a blanket one size fits all approach it is not realistic for banana farming."

Mr Lowe said the banana industry was also concerned that the regulations could stifle further growth of the industry or expansion into other areas.

"Part of the regulations is also extremely strict on greenfield sites, so there will be far more barriers for people who want to get into farming.

"With Panama Tropical Race 4, if it does get to the stage where it ramps up out of control and farmers needed to find new areas to farm bananas, it is going to stifle expansion of the industry with new greenfield regulations."

"There was a feeling that regulation was needed, but you need to take the people with you. There is no point having regulations if people can't adopt them, they have to fit in with farming practices to be successful."

Burdekin canegrower Owen Menkens is a fourth generation farmer who farms about 300 hectares of sugarcane on his Home Hill region farm.

Mr Menkens said he believed the regulations were over the top for the sugar industry, which already had regulations in place.

"Some of the extreme elements of it are making farmers really upset and probably won't have the desired effect.

"It is purely a political decision to bash a farmer to shore up green votes in the city. It is not based on what's going on on the ground.

"The practice changes we have made in the industry is phenomenal, the level of nitrogen has dropped significantly over the last 20 years and there is no recognition of that.

"The industry developed BMP program is starting to take off significantly, the auditors are out and about already.

"They need to make it a bit more practical on the ground to get a good result, we don't want to destroy reef either and will work with them for a way forward.

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