Paul Marbelli is urging farmers to update their environmental credentials Photo: John Andersen
Paul Marbelli is urging farmers to update their environmental credentials Photo: John Andersen

Doing right by Reef win-win for farms

SUGARCANE growers are out to prove their environmental credentials and that they have a "social licence" to farm.

Growers, used to being on the back foot when it comes to environmental push and shove, are starting to use a new tool that will see them become proactive rather than remaining reactive.

The Smart Cane Better Management Practice farming system which sees growers record and check all facets of their farming operations has already been taken up by 337 of the state's 1900 accredited growers.

The system provides an accurate log of day-to-day farming operations including the use of chemicals and fertilisers in paddocks.

Deputy chair of Herbert River Canegrowers Chris Bosworth said 82,000ha out of the 304,000ha under cane in Queensland was now being farmed by accredited BMP growers. He said 64 growers out of 316 farmers in the Herbert River district were already BMP accredited.

He said growers with BMP accreditation could prove they were behaving responsibly when it came to farming in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

"It means that as a grower you have evidence you are doing the right thing. These days, if you want to earn the right to farm you need to become BMP accredited. It places us on the front foot in terms of environmental regulations," Mr Bosworth said.

He said farmers with BMP accreditation would be in a better position to deal with strict new reef regulations being put in place.

Paul Marbelli, who grows 16,500 tonnes of cane at Macknade near Ingham, said that having BMP accreditation made him a better farmer.

"It provides recognition that as a farmer you are doing the right thing and that you are producing a sustainable product. Coca-Cola has recognised the environmental credentials of Smart Cane BMP and is buying sugar on that basis," he said.

"Having a large corporation like that recognise us as being sustainable is a big positive for our industry."

Mr Marbelli, a director of Herbert River Canegrowers, said he would like to see more growers applying for accreditation.

He said sugar miller Wilmar had already committed to paying a 15 cent a tonne one-off payment for BMP cane, capped at 25,000 tonnes per ABN.

He said this was an incentive for growers, but added he would like to see Wilmar reach deeper into its pockets in order to bring more farmers over the line.

"Wilmar can sell this sugar on world markets at a premium price. I'm hoping they will see the benefit in increasing their commitment to the BMP program," Mr Marbelli said.

A Wilmar spokesman said it needed to show they were doing the right thing.

He said the industry would face greater scrutiny if it did not move as a whole towards BMP accreditation.

The spokesman warned that growers without BMP could eventually be targeted by government officials cracking down on environmental regulations.