Calls to cut red tape around sugarcane industry

Government red tape needs to be slashed to increase Australia’s sugar production, with canegrowers and millers alike calling for a reduction of regulations.

The Australian Sugar Milling Council and Canegrowers have both taken aim at Queensland government red tape in recent days, with ASMC focusing on an industry revitalisatation strategy while Canegrowers continues to home in on reef regulations.

The ASMC has presented a comprehensive case to the Queensland government for

reducing regulatory overload to support the sugar industry’s revitalisation.

The push comes off the back of government red tape reduction plans, including the establishment of the Office of Productivity and Red Tape reduction within Queensland Treasury, and the release of the Queensland Productivity Commission’s Improving Regulation research paper.

ASMC Director, Economics, Policy and Trade David Rynne said the revitalisation agenda was based on three key pillars – increasing sugarcane and sugar yields while decreasing operational costs, increasing or at least maintaining canegrowing area and increasing revenue from complementary, diversified, value-added products.

“ASMC’s analysis of government regulatory interventions and cost impositions on the sugar industry make a compelling argument that cumulatively, domestic regulation is stalling industry revitalisation and a more sustainable future for the regional communities it supports,” he said.

Meanwhile Canegrowers has created an animation, available on YouTube, to explain the sugarcane industry battle against reef regulations.

“We have 80 per cent of sugarcane growers voluntarily engaged in a program, that is recognised internationally, to improve sustainability as well as cane farm productivity and profitability,” Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said.

“But government reef-focused reporting ignores that effort and tells the industry it’s failing – it’s no wonder growers are up in arms. It would appear growers are being set up to fail no matter what they do and how hard they work.”

Home Hill canegrower Owen Menkens said reef regulations were probably the biggest concern for most growers, with water and electricity prices also key issues.

“The reef regulations have definitely made it hard for a lot of growers to produce the best crops, especially where they are cracking down on nitrogen use whereby growers are reducing rates below what is profitable and productive,” he said.

“We’ve been calling on the government to look at reef regulations and electricity for a long time, so I hope they do and they take it seriously.”

Reef regulations must be fair for all

There’s a common phrase, originating in the military, that suggests manure moves downhill.

It gets across the idea that bad decisions made by those further up the chain of command often have the greatest impact on people below them, with little opportunity for recourse.

This is a principle with which farmers are unfortunately all too familiar. It often applies to our relationship with state and federal governments and their attempts at regulating agricultural industry for public benefit.

On June 1 this year the principle will apply again, when those expanding their cropping or horticulture operations in Great Barrier Reef catchments will be living downstream of new Queensland government regulations intended to improve the quality of water flowing into the reef.

The Department of Environment and Science have been consulting with farmers and industry bodies on the set of standards they propose applying to any new or expanded cropping or horticulture in reef catchments over five hectares.

When originally proposed, the standards were meant to apply only to how new production areas would be designed, ensuring that features were put in place from the get-go to minimise volume and velocity of runoff.

Since then, however, there’s been an amount of scope creep in the proposed standards, which now require farmers to meet annual and ongoing conditions.

This not only represents an unwanted additional burden, but also in many cases are an unfair impost on those expanding their operations that could just as easily be justified for everyone else.

Growcom has submitted recommended changes on behalf of the horticulture industry that we believe will create fairness and remove red tape while still achieving better reef outcomes.

The department deserves credit for having made improvements to previous versions of the standard conditions in response to industry input. We hope this continues.

Reef health improving as farmers reduce fertiliser use

The need for draconian reef regulations being forced on the agricultural sector has been called into question following the release of a reef health report.

The Reef Water Quality Report Card 2019, released last week, shows dissolved inorganic nitrogen rates on the reef had dropped by more than 25 per cent since 2013.

Farmers in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions were the main contributors to water quality improvements in 2018-2019.

Queensland Environment and Great Barrier Reef Minister Meaghan Scanlon said improved farming practices, backed by federal and state government programs, had contributed to the result.

“The overall reduction in dissolved inorganic nitrogen, the reef’s highest risk marine pollutant, was 4.3 per cent in the 2018-2019 year alone,” Ms Scanlon said.

“The cumulative reduction of 25.5 per cent since 2013 is positive for the future of the reef.

“Sugar cane and banana growers in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions were the main contributors to 2018-2019 result with improvements in chemical fertiliser and irrigation use.

“Yet we must continue this trajectory.

“It has been pleasing to hear of increased compliance with 2019 reef protection laws which introduced chemical, erosion and other practice standards.”

But North Queensland-based Senator Susan McDonald used the results to slam the state government for ‘ramming through’ tougher reef regulations in 2019, saying the latest water quality results showed improvement had been happening for years.

“This drop in nitrogen runoff didn’t happen overnight, and it has to be pointed out that the results are from 2019, the same year Labor decided to ignore evidence and submissions from farming groups to make agriculture the scapegoat for reef water quality,” Ms McDonald said.

“This report is proof of what farmers had been saying all along: that they had been improving land use methods without the need for draconian new laws.”

Ms McDonald was instrumental in establishing a Senate Inquiry into the evidence used by the Queensland government to impose harsh water quality targets on cane and cattle farmers, which found runoff affected just 3 per cent of the total Great Barrier Reef area.

“We now have confirmation of what the Senate Inquiry found which was that the new laws wouldn’t have a significant impact on water quality because the work is already being done.

“The most recent legislative changes are now revealed as unnecessary overreach that ignored what farmers were saying.

“This report is compelling enough for the state Labor government to repeal the ridiculous new restrictions and trust that farmers are good custodians of the land and are quite capable of improving their practices without being demonised as reef killers.”

Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto said the Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions recorded the largest increase in best practice nutrient management for sugar cane, up 6.3 per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively.

Mr Dametto said the report card showed the draconian reef regulations were not needed and said he was drafting a bill to have them repealed.

“Farmers are the real environmentalists when it comes to looking after the land,” Mr Dametto said.

“They don’t need Brisbane bureaucrats breathing down their necks like Big Brother telling them what they can or can’t do.”

Queensland farmers to be paid “reef credits” to reduce coral-killing pollutants

A new market mechanism designed to reduce the impacts of pollution on the Great Barrier Reef has been kick-started with banking giant HSBC and the Queensland government announced as the first buyers of so-called “‘reef credits”.

These new “‘reef credits’ are the creation of environmental traders GreenCollar, working in collaboration with Queensland landholders, to establish a new certification scheme that works in much the same way as carbon offset mechanisms. They are designed to rewards farmers and graziers for reducing the level of pollutants in wastewater leaving farmlands.

The first ‘reef credits’ have been issued to projects located in Queensland’s Tully River Catchment, with sugarcane farmers recognised for improvements in the quality of water that ultimately flows into areas of the Great Barrier Reef, by preventing nitrogen, sediment or pesticides making their way into the waters of the reef.

“Farmers and graziers are important stewards of the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef,” local farmer Jamie Dore said. “Reef Credits recognise the value of the work undertaken by Queensland farmers and provide a valuable additional source of co-investment that isn’t impacted by commodity prices and doesn’t compromise existing agricultural practices.”

“It is exciting to see both leaders in the private and public sectors investing in the work we’re doing, and supporting the future of this iconic asset.”

HSBC and the Queensland government have now joined the scheme as the first purchasers of the reef credits.

GreenCollar, one of Australia’s largest facilitators of carbon farming projects, and one of the largest participants under the Emissions Reduction Fund, has sought to adapt the approach taken in carbon offset markets to reduce the flow of agricultural pollutants into the Great Barrier Reef.

According to a ‘reef credit standard’ developed by GreenCollar, each ‘reef credit’ issued under the scheme represents a “verified amount of pollutant that has been prevented from entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon”, with each ‘reef credit’ representing a kilo of avoided pollution.

The health of the Great Barrier Reef has been under immense stress due to the combined impacts of pollution and warming ocean temperatures. Scientists have observed a significant decline in the health of the reef, with a surge of mass bleaching events and a decline in coral coverage.

summary of climate science published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that coral reefs would decline by 70 to 90 per cent with global warming of 1.5°C, and virtually all coral reefs would be lost with global warming of 2°C or more.

In an effort to protect the environmental and tourism value of the Great Barrier Reef, GreenCollar created the accreditation scheme for pollution reduction project and oversees the issuance of ‘reef credits’ to projects in line with the amount of pollution they are able to avoid. GreenCollar predicts that six million reef credits could be created by 2030, that could be purchased as environmental offsets in a similar way to carbon offsets.

“The Great Barrier Reef contributes $6.4 billion to the national economy and supports more than 64,000 jobs up and down the Queensland Coast. Poor water quality is the second-biggest threat to the reef, and helping to protect this iconic asset will continue to support these jobs and businesses,” GreenCollar CEO James Schultz said.

The Queensland government welcomed the opportunity to become one of the first purchasers under the Reef Credits scheme, with environment minister Leeanne Ecoch saying she hoped it would help support further investment in improving environmental outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef.

“Exploring ways to accelerate and incentivise actions to improve water quality flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef was a priority activity for our Major Integrated Projects,” Enoch said.

“The establishment of the Reef Credits Scheme, this first purchase, and a new partnership between GreenCollar and HSBC signals the start of an exciting new way to value natural capital and actions taken to deliver good environmental outcomes.”

HSBC said that the purchase of ‘reef credits’ formed part of the bank’s climate ambition statement, that includes targets to increase investment in zero carbon projects, and nature-based solutions over the next five years.

“Partnerships like this between governments, the private sector and firms like GreenCollar are vital to achieving net zero carbon, and appropriately valuing and investing in natural capital,” CEO of HSBC Australia Kaber Mclean said. “Our participation in this global first reinforces our credentials as a sustainable finance pioneer in the Australian market, as well as our commitment to safeguarding natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef.”

HSBC recently announced a partnership with Australian advisory firm Pollination Group, to invest up to A$ 4.15 billion in ‘natural capital projects’, that aim to protect the environment and cut greenhouse emissions.

Canegrowers demand action ahead of state election

Vision and zeal in government policy is required for Queensland’s billion dollar sugar industry to reach its full potential.

The industry’s peak lobby group Canegrowers is calling on the next state government to deliver reforms that will allow the industry to prosper.

Canegrowers chair Paul Schembri said great opportunities existed for the industry to expand from raw sugar production, to areas including bio-fuel and renewable energy.

He said a prosperous sugar industry was vital to vibrant and resilient regional communities.

“For every $1 spent growing sugar cane, it creates a further $6.42 in regional economic activity,” Mr Schembri said.

“We’re putting the challenge out to political parties contesting this election to put forward more policies for the agricultural industry to reach its full potential and in turn lead to more vibrant and resilient regional communities.

“They need to be proactive with policy making, and not deliver policies that are handbrakes to sugar and agriculture.

“This is a great opportunity to allow us to grow to our full potential.

“We’ve been based on an exclusive, single product and sugar has served us well, but there are huge opportunities for the sugar industry to create further income streams.”

Mr Schembri said the industry was at the mercy of a volatile world market price.

“We need to be more resilient, we need to have other strings in our bow,” he said.

“We’re growing 30 million tonnes of cane, right beside ports… we need that vision and zeal of government policy to get us there.”

We need to be more resilient, we need to have other strings in our bow.– Paul Schembri

Mr Schembri said he wanted to see serious policy offerings from political parties that were tangible and could grow agriculture.

Canegrowers laid down the challenge to parties contesting the state election, releasing an eight-point plan to secure a sustainable, profitable and productive future for sugar cane growers, regional communities and the state economy.

Central to their plan is reducing the cost of water and electricity so the industry could remain internationally competitive.

They are also calling for controversial reef regulations to be revamped, which as it stands Mr Schembri said is set to cost the Queensland economy $1.3 billion over ten years.

Other points include investing in a future agricultural workforce with school programs and post-school skills training, revitalise the Department of Agriculture, and removing roadblocks to disaster preparedness including making insurance more affordable.

Reef regulations ‘blunt force’ say dissenting LNP senators

The Palaszczuk government’s 2019 regulations claimed to protect the Great Barrier Reef from farming activities have been condemned as a destructive, ‘blunt force’ policy approach.

In handing down their minority dissenting report today (Friday), the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee’s LNP members said the controversial regulations would not only guarantee a decline of Queensland’s $12 billion agricultural industries, but also decimate regional communities reliant on agriculture.

LNP Senators Susan McDonald, Gerrard Rennick and Matt Canavan called for the establishment of an Office of Scientific Review, a review of the water quality targets, reverting back to voluntary Best Management Practice partnerships, and repealing a massive increase in penalties for breaches of the regulations.

Senator McDonald said evidence had been presented to the inquiry showing the regulations would not improve reef water quality, but will instead require farmers to complete additional, unnecessary paperwork costing each farmer about $60,000.

“The extreme disconnect between science and agriculture has been one of the most concerning findings of this inquiry and I genuinely hope there will be a focus on re-building the trust,” Senator McDonald said.

“We know genuine science-agriculture partnerships are capable of achieving solid environmental outcomes because we heard evidence at the public hearings about the positive results these programs have.

“Governments should focus on these programs before turning to harsh, out-of-step, blunt force regulatory approaches.”

Senator Gerard Rennick said an Office of Scientific Review was needed to test the empirical science.

“We heard extreme weather events, like cyclones and flood events, ocean acidification, industry run-off, fishing and coastal development also contribute to the water quality of the Reef,” Senator Rennick said.

“There is no hard evidence to suggest farm run-off is affecting coral growth rates or that it causes crown of thorns starfish outbreaks.

“Laying poor water quality solely at the feet of our farmers and graziers through unattainable water targets is reprehensible and disingenuous.”

Senator Matt Canavan said a staggering increase to the penalties from about $13,000 to more than $220,000 had caused farmers to feel like criminals.

“Queensland’s laws effectively make farming illegal by imposing unreachable targets on agricultural expansion,” Senator Canavan said.

“If farming can’t grow, it will eventually disappear.

“These laws were never about the reef or farming.

These laws were all about getting Green votes in Brisbane for Labor.”