DAF representative Adam Northey (centre) is flanked by NQ Dry Tropics staffers Rob Hunt (left) and Rodger Walker

Forum investigates best returns for graziers and reef

BURDEKIN graziers are adopting management practices for a more sustainable and productive farming future – and the results are in to prove it.
The estimated annual average total suspended sediment load leaving Burdekin catchments had reduced by 17.7 per cent in the 12 months to June 2016.
These results are in the latest report card from the Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting program that publishes progress about Reef Plan’s targets.
The sediment reduction, which  received an A rating on the report card, was mainly down to changes in grazing land management.
NQ Dry Tropics hosted a forum in Townsville in late February to review the report card results and cross check with the region’s current funding priorities. Government, industry, researchers, scientists, natural resource managers and landholders representatives attended.
Water quality is a big issue in the Dry Tropics of North Queensland, and this year NQ Dry Tropics launched the implementation phase of its Landholders Driving Change (LDC) project to tackle erosion and improve land management, productivity and Reef water quality in the Burdekin region.
The project is focused on the high-priority Bowen, Broken, Bogie (BBB) catchment near Bowen and Collinsville, which produces almost a quarter of the total fine sediment load that ends up on the Reef.
NQ Dry Tropics’ LDC Land Management Support Coordinator Rodger Walker said it was positive to see a reduction in sediment load leaving Burdekin catchments but that this reduction needs to continue.
“The Landholders Driving Change project is one such initiative to facilitate practice change to do just that,” Mr Walker said.
“The project provided opportunities for the grazing community to drive and influence the design of the project, right from the start.
“As a result the BBB community is focused on implementing and evaluating a range of innovative tools and practices to achieve enduring sustainable and productive land management practices that reduce sediment loss.
“Monitoring and evaluation is crucial to the credibility of the project. Credibility is essential to encourage graziers and other land managers to participate, and to build ownership by the BBB community,” he said.
NQ Dry Tropics Paddock to Reef officer Jade Fraser agreed and said Landholders Driving Change reflected targeted investment aimed at helping landholders make effective land management practice changes.
“Farmers are practical people. Putting farmers at the centre of the solution to yield results for the Great Barrier Reef and to improve farm production, nets long-term gains for both,” Mr Fraser said.
“NQ Dry Tropics and its delivery partners work hard to engage farmers’ interest in monitoring by working directly with farmers to trial and validate their farm management practices.
“Data is presented in a way that they can see the impact of their management planning and practices and can therefore better argue what is best practice for their farm.
Landholders Driving Change is one of two Major Integrated Projects (MIPs) recommended by the great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce.  The Queensland Government has committed a total of $33 million to fund both MIPs.

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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