Reef laws or not, our farmers have long embraced change
THE uptake of innovative farming practices by Proserpine growers has been on the rise in recent years, but in a challenging sugar market, the number of farmers able to invest in change is stagnating.
Canegrowers Proserpine manager Mike Porter said the region's growers were strongly embracing new farming technologies.
However, record low world sugar prices mean growers are reaching a point where it is becoming less financially viable to change the way they farm.
"Farmers and growers are generally willing to do it provided they will get a return and benefit from the new technologies,” he said.
"Unfortunately, as well, growers don't feel inclined to invest in new technologies if the government turns around and says we aren't doing a good job.
"At the moment the government doesn't have a handle on it - they don't understand that our growers are investing.”
Despite new reef protection laws coming into effect on December 1, Proserpine growers have already been investing in ways to reduce run-off and nutrient loss on their farms.
Financially, it's within the grower's interest to keep nutrients applied to their crop, contained on the paddock.
Improved farming practices through new technologies, contributes to increased productivity and environmental stability.
Farm manager and researcher Paul Rogers is passionate about continuing to develop the way growers farm here in Proserpine.
One of many changes to farming in the region comes in the form of a fertiliser that stabilises nitrogen when it's in the ground, preventing it from being lost into the environment or being washed into the waterways.
In the five years between 2012 to 2017, the use of the stabilising fertiliser ENTEC by farmers in the region rose from about 1 per cent to almost 25 per cent.
However usage has now plateaued, which is a trend Mr Rogers attributes to the financial stress farmers are currently facing because of low sugar prices.
"We've reached the stage here in Proserpine were the return on investing in something like ENTEC is stopping, and making the change, it's not worth it,” he said.
"Even if we handed this out for free, you're always going to get about 20 per cent who are reluctant to try.
"Most farmers here though would be willing to switch.”
Despite currently operating in a tough market, there is almost a quarter of farmers in the region who have switched to this fertiliser, which works to prevent both run-off and nutrient loss.
Coming at a larger cost at first compared with what growers have used in the past, the technology implemented in the fertiliser means less is needed to complete the same job.
Mr Porter said new technologies, in the form of stabilising fertilisers, help to achieve what the government say the reef laws have been created to do - to protect the reef from nutrient run-off and sediment from farms.
It's been no secret that farmers have been disappointed by the government's approach to control the way they conduct their businesses.
Mr Porter said ultimately growers would have the support of the government in making the investment into improved farming practices.
He said unfortunately growers did not feel that was the case.
"In the past we have seen the federal and state government assist farmers with progress,” he said.
"It would be nice if the government would help and co-invest in new technologies but now, they would rather go through a regulatory process.
"There has certainly been a change in philosophy.
"I know there are growers here in Proserpine who are adopting new practices and there are ones who want to but there comes a limit.”