P2R Projector | Landholders Driving Change

Projector software an aid for Paddock to Reef project officers

Web-based tool helps forecast water quality benefits

NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer Michael Hobbs and Burdekin cane grower Gordon Brown use the P2R Projector to assess the value of a proposed on-farm project

A web-based tool is helping NQ Dry Tropics’ project officers prioritise projects according to water quality benefits when working with sugarcane growers to improve their farming practices.

The NQ Dry Tropics’ Sugar Team has tested the recently developed Paddock to Reef Projector, a tool that helps extension staff and growers to forecast the benefit of investing in farming practice change.

NQ Dry Tropics project officer Michael Hobbs said the projector was proving to be an effective business planning tool, helping growers and extension staff to discuss the relative benefit of adopting improved farming practices in a timely manner.

“The grower now has the opportunity to propose changes to their farming practices and see the predicted outcomes of those changes immediately,” Mr Hobbs said.

“Using the projector tool we can better communicate the water quality outcomes of improved farming practices to growers, and ensure our investments in these improvements are cost effective.

“It’s also proving to be a good engagement and communication tool between extension officers and growers, helping to bridge the gap between farming practices and water quality outcomes to the reef.

“Growers are finding that it increases their understanding of the practice change adoption process through asking questions they may not normally consider,” he said.

Burdekin grower Gordon Wood said the projector tool predicted the environmental benefits of further improving his irrigation efficiency and the associated grant funding that could be leveraged.

“I am making changes to the way I farm. I’ve gone from focusing on efficient nutrient application to looking at all areas of farm management, in particular irrigation management, and using tools to measure soil moisture to improve the accuracy of my irrigation scheduling,” Mr Wood said.

“I’m now basing decisions on the information I get through these monitoring tools rather than just from looking at the cane.

“The projector has shown me that by effectively managing both nutrient and irrigation practices, there are significant additional water quality benefits,” he said.

NQ Dry Tropics Paddock to Reef Program project officer Jade Fraser said the Queensland Government was focusing attention on the adoption of key farming practices that directly reduce the risk of nutrients, pesticide and sediment run-off into the Great Barrier Reef.

“The long-term goal is to improve water quality in the reef catchments. The Paddock to Reef projector is helping NQ Dry Tropics work with the grower to better understand the positive impact of each farm practice and how it’s helping contribute to our regional reef water quality targets.  This makes it easier to assess and prioritise projects for government funding.

“For each project created in the projector, the nutrient, pesticide and sediment loads are modelled for both the current conditions and the conditions following the implementation of proposed improved management practices.

“This means we get more bang for every funding dollar, a win win situation for the farmer, the government, and for water quality improvement to the reef,” he said.

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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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