A unique pilot project involving more than 100 canegrowers in North Queensland has delivered a solution to reduce the amount of nitrates that end up in the Great Barrier Reef by at least 15 per cent.

The successful trial funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) saw scientists and canegrowers working together across the Russell and Mulgrave river catchments south of Cairns to install hi-tech telemetry and water quality sensors close to their properties.

For the first time, farmers were able to access year-round and real time measurements of nitrate amounts in their creeks and rivers using a specially developed mobile phone app.

This showed that if landholders can hold back the first flush of Wet Season rain using the existing farm drainage network and let it settle for a few days, it can significantly reduce runoff into the reef.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said giving growers access to real time data had helped to build trust and provide confidence when making on-farm decisions that support the environment.

“This is an example of farmers and scientists working closely together to improve ecosystem health, ensuring farmers are fully informed and can have faith in the data they are receiving,” Minister Ley said.

“Protecting our waterways means cleaner rivers, larger fish stocks, resilient marine life, healthier coral and stronger coastal tourism.

“To do this we need to work closely with growers and maintain their trust. The project has partnered with local farmers to design the program and carry out the research.

“Being able to accurately track and reduce dissolved inorganic nitrogen flowing onto the reef, and work closely with communities, is key to meeting our water quality targets under the Reef 2050 Plan.”

Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef and Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said the pilot showed how farmers were part of the solution to help the reef thrive.

“Projects like these are building relationships and goodwill between farmers and scientists, allowing landholders to be closely involved in planning discussions and scientific trials.

“Growers have been able to have a say about methods that are acceptable to improve water quality without having financial and practical repercussions on their farms and families.

“This study represents an inspiring commitment by canegrowers to do what they can to help the reef, and how positive these efforts continue to be for the environment, industry and local communities.”

North Queensland-based Senator for Queensland, Susan McDonald, who recently took part in a Senate Inquiry into farming effects on Great Barrier Reef waters, said the Morrison Government was leading the way in showing collaboration as the best way to achieve positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

“One of the glaring revelations in the Inquiry was the lack of on-farm engagement undertaken by the Queensland Labor Government when they drafted their anti-farming Reef regulations,” she said.

“This federal program is giving farmers the tools and information they need to make sound decisions on how they manage their land, but more importantly it shows them the results of their efforts.

“Farmers are the first to say that caring for the environment is a top priority, but they should be encouraged and helped by governments, not dictated to with harsh laws and endless paperwork.”

The project was funded by the Australian Government’s NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub through the Cairns-based Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) and delivered by scientists from CSIRO and James Cook University.