Industry unites at Smartcane BMP launch
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Industry unites at Smartcane BMP launch

It’s not often that you will see all the stakeholder groups across an industry unite in support of a program, but that’s exactly what happened when the new best practices system, Smartcane BMP, was launched at the end of last year.

Not only did two government Ministers share the stage at the launch, but CANEGROWERS and the Australian Cane Farmers Association teamed up to unveil what they describe as a critical program for the Australian sugarcane industry.

CANEGROWERS said it was important that the launch was held in one of State’s 14 major sugarcane growing hubs as the program is a grassroots one whose success hinges on grower participation. And attract grower interest it did, as around 50 local Mackay and Proserpine cane growers flocked to the event held on the Deguara cane farm at Farleigh, to learn about the next big stage in the cane industry’s future.

The official start of Smartcane BMP was marked by congratulatory speeches by Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Andrew Powell and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister John McVeigh, who were quick to pat the industry on the back for its willingness and commitment to promote and adopt best management practices.

“By adopting Smartcane BMP, growers will reduce green tape, strengthen long-term farm productivity and help improve water quality for the Great Barrier Reef,” Minister Powell told the crowd.

It’s been described as a new era for sugarcane farming in Australia. Growers are being urged to sign up and work through a series of online modules, eventually leading to accreditation showing that they work to the highest standards on their farm.

And as the number of cane farmers working through Smartcane BMP increases, the government has committed to winding back some of the regulations placed on the industry by the previous Labor state government.

Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said best management programs had already worked successfully in other industries, such as cotton and grain. He said it was now the sugar industry’s turn to take up that challenge.

CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri said growers should welcome the program with open arms because it was the much needed vehicle the sugarcane industry needed to show it can engage in self-management of its environmental affairs. “What’s more, it’s a better approach than regulation because it inspires people to get the best possible outcome,” he said.

“The key outcomes will be improved profitability and improved productivity – but let’s be under no illusion; one of the key objectives here is to demonstrate to the community that this industry has got the environmental wherewithal to convince everybody that we are an environmentally sustainable industry.”

Knowing farmers are looking after the land and their environs is something that the world is starting to care increasingly about and Mr Schembri says that by growers signing on and completing modules, the Australian industry would be able to prove its current reputation amongst its international peers as leading the world in sustainable cane farming. “This is an opportunity for us to tell our story and our story is an impressive one,” he says.

Local grower Michael Deguara, who hosted the event at his Farleigh property and CANEGROWERS Mackay Chairman Kevin Borg, both completed one of the seven Smartcane BMP modules before the launch. Michael Deguara admitted to the gathering that it was challenging. “By not being easy it will give it strength and credibility,” he said.

He and Kevin Borg publically joined the growing list of industry stakeholders who are urging growers to sign up.

Milestone planting in a Mackay cane field
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Milestone planting in a Mackay cane field

A third generation Mackay cane grower has become the first in Australia to receive accreditation in the new industry best practices farm program, Smartcane BMP.

Michael Deguara received his certificate of accreditation for the Smartcane BMP Soil Health and Nutrition module, a critical module in the eventual roll-back of regulation for the sugarcane industry and one which covers of on a key issue for the farming community – nitrogen use efficiency. It’s one of seven that makes up the program.

CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri says that the Smartcane program is shaping up to be a huge success for the industry with over 300 growers, accounting for more than 70,000 hectares, signed up to the program within the first few months of its launch.

Mr Deguara says while it wasn’t as easy as he had expected, he believes the rigour in the system will be the thing that sells growers, industry, government and the community on Smartcane BMP being the system they can hang their hat on.

“Going through the module made us think about everything we do on the farm. That’s the thing about best practice – there are always new ways and better technology around the corner.

“I think growers will appreciate being able to know for certain they are doing the right thing – and as we go along, this Smartcane system is going to help us keep thinking about any new practices and technologies we could or should be using.

“Working on several of the seven modules as part of Smartcane BMP has given me the confidence that Smartcane BMP will definitely provide a watertight assurance to the community that the Australian sugarcane industry is leading the world in environmentally sustainable farming.”

Paul Schembri says the early success of the program is a credit to the Queensland Government for taking a strong, proactive partnership approach with industry.

“We thank Premier Campbell Newman on his initiative of partnering with industry to develop a best practices system and Minister for Environment, Andrew Powell, and Minister for Agriculture, John McVeigh, for supporting the BMP approach to a place where we can now get growers from across the State through as many modules as we can and really show our communities that our cane farms deserve the reputations they have worldwide as being leading edge growers of sugarcane,” Paul says.

He says the government’s support will help growers shift from regulation to an industry-led system underpinned by profitability and strong land stewardship.

You can hear Michael talking about his experience going through the Smartcane BMP module on ABC Radio here

First farmer accredited in three key BMP modules
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First farmer accredited in three key BMP modules

A spell of wet weather prompted Michael Pisano to become the first cane grower to be accredited in the three key Smartcane BMP modules.

The CANEGROWERS Herbert River Director and CANEGROWERS Policy Councillor was among the first farmers to register for the Smartcane BMP program. Now he’s the first to have been audited in the three key modules in the program (out of the seven that make up Smartcane BMP).

Michael didn’t have to change a thing about the way he farms; he just had to prove what he was doing.
“I’d done the initial workshop and then it sat there for about three months until we got some rainy weather and I decided to get stuck into it in the office,” Michael says. “We were already using the Best Management Practices on our farm. The biggest thing was coming to terms with all the recording that’s required and the evidence to show what we were doing.”

Michael admits he found the process but a bit tough. “But with the help of our local facilitator and others, we worked through it,” he says.

“I had to formalise my nutrient and weed management plans but now that it’s done I only have to update it each year. I think over 90% of the growers in this district could look through and see that their practices meet the requirements.”

Michael and Linda Pisano’s farm at Braemeadows, east of Ingham, has no irrigation and produces 6,500-7,000 tonne on average from around 90 hectares.

All machinery is on GPS with auto-steer and matched to the row spacings. Along with most growers in the Herbert River district, Michael made the switch to green cane cutting in the 1980s and has never looked back.

“It’s probably the biggest change in farming that I’ve seen that’s been of real benefit to us. If it’s too wet to harvest you can just leave it, the contractor can go somewhere else and comeback later.

“Trash blanketing keeps the moisture in during the dry parts of the year and in the wet season the soil doesn’t move. It also keeps grasses down – we hardly ever see narrow leaf weeds anymore. It’s just the broadleaf ones which sometimes get through.”

Michael says the trash and using a high-rise sprayer that helps him target weeds have meant his chemical usage has dropped dramatically over the past decade.

An Australian Government Reef Programme grant helped him and his nephew add stool splitters to their shared fertiliser box and Michael says generally one pass with it is enough. Funding has been secured through the latest round of the Programme for a hooded spray unit.

Meandering through Michael’s farm are wide grassy lanes with swales and wetlands, flourishing with reeds, insects and waterlilies and home to flocks of ducks and other waterbirds.

This is no haphazard arrangement; it was carefully designed under an 11 year program to amalgamate into one master plan all of the drainage across 14,500 hectares of farmland between Ingham and the ocean. New drainage lines were put in, wetlands were constructed and flood lifter pumps were installed to control, slow and filter the water.

Michael is the chairman of the Lower Herbert Water Management Authority, the statutory board which now manages the flow of water across the landscape and coordinates the maintenance of the drainage lines. He believes the master plan has been a major contributor to improved productivity.

“These drainage lines are protected by law and they act as a filter system for the water. The local council came on board because it could see the whole community benefits – it’s not just an agricultural benefit.”

My journey through Smartcane BMP
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My journey through Smartcane BMP

By Kevin Borg, Plane Creek cane grower and Chairman CANEGROWERS Mackay

When the industry-developed and managed Smartcane BMP (Best Management Practice) program first came into operation, I knew it would be a great alternative for the regulations already in place.

I also knew that it would not be easy, nor was it meant to be. So getting started and amid some negative hype around the program, I was quite apprehensive.

However I do want the world to recognise that I am a sustainable and responsible operator and I want to be able to say I am a Smartcane BMP accredited grower. By having convincing evidence of Best Management Practice operations I will be able to immediately lay to rest any views that imply that as a cane grower I am an environmental vandal.

I signed up for one of the first Smartcane BMP group workshop which was informative and the facilitators and support staff were able to answer our questions. They also were able to show us how to navigate the website and explained that I could also access the necessary material in hard copy if I did not want to do the program online. I made the personal decision to persevere with the website option.

After the workshop I began to gather the evidence I would need to progress. I managed to get together the easy to find documentation but stumbled when I needed to produce chemical and nutrient management plans.

I had kept chemical and fertiliser records for Reef Regulations, but sourcing them was cumbersome and frustrating because they were all over the place. Considering carefully the consequences of not continuing I eventually re-motivated myself to enter it into the one place – not so difficult after all.

I familiarised myself with the AgDat information storage program after hearing about its function at the initial workshop. While some of my information was initially not compatible, this won’t be a problem in the future as I am now aware of the requirements for this system. Once I had gathered the evidence required I saved it all on to a USB stick (although it is not necessary to provide your information this way, as it can be delivered or sent as hard copy also).

My internet connection at home is not fast enough to download onto the Smartcane BMP website so I delivered the USB stick to CANEGROWERS Mackay staff and they uploaded my evidence.

I am now waiting to be audited in the three key modules, which involves a farm visit and confirmation of the records and practices I have recorded. I feel confident that I will have sufficient evidence of operations to be accredited, but I will have to await the audit to find out.

If I do not have all the required evidence and more is required, I will persevere. Already I know that I am a lot closer to compliance and Best Management Practice than when I first started. I feel more in control of my future and I know now how and where to keep my records and the necessity to keep them up-to-date.

If anyone is contemplating not signing on for Smartcane BMP, I urge you to please re-think this stance. The very first step in registering for Smartcane BMP takes a couple of minutes, and once that’s done you can take as long or as short a time as you need to achieve your accreditation.

While the next steps may be intense for some, you can be assured the future holds much more promise when you know that by maintaining your record keeping, you are showing your commitment to, and achieving, continuous sustainable Best Management Practice.

Northern growers achieve Smartcane accreditation
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Northern growers achieve Smartcane accreditation

A CANEGROWERS policy council member who wants to silence the cane industry’s critics and a relatively new grower are the latest farmers to be accredited in the best management practice program, Smartcane – in the process proving they are world class producers of quality, sustainable sugar.

Burdekin grower Russell Jordan and Herbert River grower Walter Giordani have completed and been audited in the three modules: Soil Health and Plant Nutrition; Pest, Disease and Weed Management; and Drainage and Irrigation management.

Russell Jordan (pictured holding his certificate) says Smartcane BMP means he can show he is caring for the Great Barrier Reef while producing around 30,000 tonnes of quality cane from four irrigated farms at Giru.

“When we cop criticism, we can now put this up as proof we are doing the right thing as an industry,” he said.

And for him, it was definitely worth finding the time around farm work and family to pull together the evidence the process needed – with early mornings proving to be the best time.

“We keep good records of what we do so I just had to sit down in spare moments, a little bit each day,” he said. “I found getting up half an hour earlier with a coffee before the kids woke up worked for me. “And as a Policy Council Member and CANEGROWERS Burdekin director, if we’re telling growers to do it, we should be doing it,” Russell said of his decision to push through and be audited.
For Walter Giordani, who with his wife Nadine has 100 hectares over two farms at Bambaroo, the Smartcane BMP modules were a way of checking that they were on the right track with their farming practices and plans.

“I’m a relatively new grower as it’s only in the past six years that we bought our farms and expanded so I’m keen to adopt and implement any best management practices,” he said.

“We’re already going down the path of controlled traffic and wider row spacings and this has cemented the ideas we’ve had for our business and confirmed the direction we’re heading in.

“We saw a lot of value in doing it,” he said. “It was a team effort with Nadine doing most of the entries into the Smartcane BMP website – she did all the hard work on the computer!”

While Walter and Nadine have been accredited as already meeting industry best practice, they have plans to improve further when budgets and finances allow.

Having now achieved his accreditation in the three key modules, Russell is encouraging everyone who’s registered with Smartcane BMP to continue on to be audited as well.

“It wasn’t too hard really,” he says.“I’d encourage everyone to go and see their local facilitator who’ll put them on the right track with a list of things to do and then just work through it.”

Smartcane BMP Project Manager Mick Quirk says BMP is important for a number of reasons – it can help identify the practices that are most likely to improve efficiency, production and profitability while demonstrating to our communities and overseas customers that our sugar is sustainable, and help Australia maintain a competitive edge.

“Many Queensland growers have registered and done the self-assessment stage, now we are seeing many of them start to move towards seeking accreditation,” he said.
Mackay growers show BMP fits all farms
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Mackay growers show BMP fits all farms

Two recently accredited Mackay growers have shown that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in the sugarcane industry’s best management practice program, Smartcane BMP.

Local facilitator John Turner guided Tony Bartolo and Wayne Peach through their registration, self-assessment and evidence gathering activities and says the exercise proved that best practice is different on different farms.

“Both of these growers are farming under very different circumstances,” he said. “Tony is on irrigated flat straight drills and Wayne has hilly, contoured dryland country but both had a desire to check their farming practices against Smartcane BMP.

“It was a pleasure to work with two growers who had an understanding of environmental issues while striving to reduce their impact off farm.”

Tony Bartolo farms 120 hectares at Rosella, just south of Mackay.
“As an industry we need to advocate our sustainable management of the natural resources in our control and which we use to produce a product that is exported worldwide,” he said. Tony believes improving the quality of water leaving farms is paramount to the protection of oceans for future generations.

“Living in Mackay means we spend a lot of time on the water and reef fishing is my favourite pastime.” A tail water sediment trap that catches a large portion of the farm’s runoff and Tony has worked hard to fine tune farm inputs – to reduce environmental impact while maintaining or boosting production. “Granular products are applied sub-surface using side dress coulters on the ratoons and the plant cane dresser is a reversed trash incorporator which applies fertiliser and hills up in one pass.”

Tony has been converting his farm to GPS controlled traffic on 1.8m rows and most of the farm has been laser levelled. Having limited access to groundwater which, because of his proximity to the coast, can at times be quite salty has influenced a move to low pressure overhead irrigation. Tony currently has two booms and when BioDunder is applied, it is gently watered into the soil within four days of application. “This should return a good result on the current crop which is averaging about 100 tonnes per hectare against the Mackay average of about 70 tonnes,” Tony estimates.

Wayne Peach and his wife Sharon bought their 92 hectare farm from his parents in 1990 and 60 hectares is planted to cane. Wayne admits to being surprised at being one of the first two growers in the Mackay area to be accredited.

“I had to do a few things to get through but I knew I had to do them anyway,” he says of getting his dryland farm through the Smartcane BMP process.“I guess it inspired me to get my act together and our facilitator John Turner made it all fairly painless.”

The farm has undulating blocks and light soils. It’s a combination that makes it prone to erosion, a factor that prompted Wayne to move to zonal tillage on 1.83m centres.

“This is only my second year but the bit of rain we did have had didn’t produce the erosion that I would normally have seen,” he said.

Wayne is seeing time and fuel saving now that his tractors have now all had their wheel spacings converted - one of the tasks he needed to complete to meet the Smartcane BMP requirements. Putting in a chemical shed was another thing on his list.

And while he’d been keeping paper records, Wayne has recently upgraded his computer skills and started using the AgDat program to record his chemical usage.

“The next thing will be to move to using a mobile phone in the paddock and uploading the information because even though I don’t have GPS in my tractors it will use the GPS in my phone," he said.