BMP helps grower track inputs
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BMP helps grower track inputs

In October 2015 Neil Kingston took up the challenge to gain Smartcane BMP accreditation for his farming operation at Cordalba and over several months worked with his wife Gaylene to complete all of the core modules. In March 2016, their business became the first to be accredited in the Isis Mill area. It was quickly followed by accreditations for Tim Baldwin of South Kolan and Noel Johnson from the Alloway district.

Neil sees the BMP process as a useful way to reassure governments and the community that farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously. “Most growers work hard to look after their land and to avoid causing any problems downstream,” he said. “Most of us already have in place many of the records and practices that are required for BMP accreditation.” It took him two days to enter the necessary information about sprays, fertiliser and cultivation from his notebooks into a spreadsheet that local BMP Facilitator Bruce Quinn had developed.

“It is a simple and practical tool that helps growers meet the requirements for accreditation but is also a great way to keep records into the future,” Neil said. He has found the spray recording sheets particularly useful as a way of keeping track of the products applied to different blocks and monitoring the effectiveness of each.

“Other than improving our farm record system to meet the auditor’s requirements, the only other thing that was identified as needing immediate action was to upgrade our chemical storage facility,” he said.

“For growers who also grow horticultural crops, the process should be fairly straight forward as the records kept for programs like FreshCare can be used to meet the requirements of Smartcane BMP,” he said.
Changing the public perception of cane farming
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Changing the public perception of cane farming

Having completed the three core modules of Smartcane BMP, Cairns Region grower Stephen Calcagno wants the public to get a new understanding of the respect farmers have for Queensland’s unique World Heritage assets. He believes the best way for that to happen is through farmers supporting the industry-driven best management practice program to accreditation.

“I’ve been here all my life,” Stephen says. “I’ve seen no deterioration in creeks, I’ve seen them actually thriving. We’ve changed a lot over the years and farmers have got really proactive.”

Stephen believes Smartcane BMP is the best tool farmers have at their disposal to prove that they are minimising the loss of nutrient, pesticide and sediment into the Great Barrier Reef catchment. “The more who do it, the more it puts our industry in a favourable light with the community. We’ve got to prove to everyone that we’re doing the right thing by the reef.”

Good drainage management is crucial for Stephen in his high rainfall environment and riparian zones, silt traps and grassed headlands slow water flow keeping nutrient, herbicide and sediment on his farms. Stephen keeps accurate records of activities such as nutrient applications and cultivation with the GPS on his farm machinery downloading events onto a computer program and he’s two years into a process of switching his farms over to a single-row 1.8 metre controlled traffic farming system which is reducing soil compaction and the potential for erosion.

“If you can fix up the soil health then you’ll have the optimum take-up of nutrients, a healthy root system and healthy plant that’ll utilise the nutrients that you’ve put in and will minimise any loss running off,” Stephen says.

Nutrients are applied using the Six Easy Steps principles and placed sub-surface with a stool-splitting fertiliser box.

As Stephen sees it, there’s much at stake for growers given the importance of a productive, profitable and environmentally sustainable sugar industry to the Queensland’s regional economy. “Everyone makes an impact, it’s just trying to minimise the impact that you do make,” he said. “At the end I’ve still got to run a productive business for the sake of me, for the sake of the towns because financially, even if I’m not making money the farmers are keeping a lot of the towns up and down the state going, keeping people in jobs and money turning over.”
Tableland growers show BMP fits all sizes
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Tableland growers show BMP fits all sizes

Rajinder Singh, Claude Santucci and John Dixon represent very different farming operations – a large family-owned farm business, a smaller family farm and the Tableland mill owner MSF Sugar with its 2,750 hectares of cane farmland in the region. All are now accredited in the Smartcane BMP three core modules and received their certificates from local facilitator John Barbetti.

“BMP accreditation proves that a business is operating sustainability and responsibly meeting economic, social and environmental needs,” Rajinder explained.

He has 241 hectares under cane on a farm which drains west away from the Great Barrier Reef. “Reef regulations are not a driving force,” he said of his motivation to be accredited. “The benefits of BMP are much wider. Growers should rise to the challenge and prove beyond doubt that our industry is world class in both growing operations and environmental impacts.”

For Claude, a move by big sugar customers such as Coca Cola to give preference to sugar with sustainable production credentials was a motivator.

“Some of the people we sell sugar to now are demanding environmentally sustainable production methods and that will probably only get more intense as time progresses,” he said. “So I thought if this is the future, I will jump on the bandwagon early.”

Claude’s family produces around 11,000 tonnes of cane a year from two farms. “We’re in the Barron River catchment which all flows down into the Great Barrier Reef,” Claude said. “We have to accept our responsibilities to the environment. A voluntary system like BMP where the grower and industry have more say in how we manage it is better than the authorities telling us what to do and how to do it.”

Claude and Rajinder see the benefits of Smartcane BMP in their day to day farming operations. “Accurate farm input records are the heart of it and this data is key to making good business decisions,” said Rajinder who cuts 120 t/ha on his farm but has a goal of 140 t/ha.

MSF Sugar too has a target of improving yield from 200,000 tonnes or 87 t/ha this season to 250,000 tonnes by 2020. The company says that to achieve its business objectives it needs to improve in all areas and Smartcane BMP helps to prioritise decisions.

“For a business focused on maximising productivity and profitability, a BMP is the first essential step,” Rajinder said.
Faster and easier BMP accreditation audits
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Faster and easier BMP accreditation audits

Farm visits by Smartcane BMP’s team of industry auditors are streamlining the accreditation process for busy cane growers. An audit is an independent assessment of farm records and other documents to confirm that these are consistent with industry best practice.

“Up till now, the local Smartcane BMP facilitator has been uploading examples of records for an auditor to assess via computer,” Program Manager Mick Quirk says. “On-farm audits are more efficient as the industry auditor can talk directly with the grower and clarify any questions on the spot.”

For Mackay district growers John and Phil Deguara, a visit by an industry auditor meant their Brightly home farm of 250 hectares plus lease and share farms could all be assessed on the same day. “It was so much better than trying to collate a whole lot of documents, passing them to the facilitator and then having to go back and forth with questions. It was much easier to just show the auditor what we are doing,” Phil said. “The properties are all farmed on the same principles, with controlled traffic, so anything the auditor wanted to see we could find the proof or more information right then and there.” Industry auditor Lana Shoesmith spent around three hours on the Deguara’s farms and Phil is recommending the process to other growers.

“We started in the office and went through our recording program on the computer for fertiliser and chemical use – it’s easier to show someone how it works than try to print it off,” Phil explained. “Then we went out and looked at the chemical shed and spray tractor, planting and harvesting equipment, basically everything and we went for a drive around the farm and looked at the different operations.”

“The job of local Smartcane BMP facilitators isn’t changing,” Mick says. “They will guide and assist you to benchmark your practices and to gather and organise the records and documents needed to achieve accreditation.

“When the facilitator thinks you are ready, they’ll complete a checklist to confirm you have everything required and send this to me and I’ll organise a day and time that suits you, the facilitator and an industry auditor.

“Industry auditors are not there to judge or badger – they are simply an independent set of eyes, and ears, for observing your records and farm and for hearing about how you farm.” The whole process should take about two hours for a non-irrigated farm and up to three hours for an irrigated farm, depending on size of the farms in the business and how close they are to each other. Both John and Phil are now accredited in Smartcane BMP’s three core modules adding their weight to the industry drive for productivity, profitability and sustainability.
Innisfail board proves its water quality credentials
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Innisfail board proves its water quality credentials

“They are leading by example… farming in a sustainable manner to protect the Great Barrier Reef while maintaining productivity and profitability”Dan Galligan (CANEGROWERS CEO)

All five members of the CANEGROWERS Innisfail Board have achieved Smartcane BMP accreditation, the first CANEGROWERS district to achieve this.


“They are leading by example and can demonstrate to their communities, government regulators and the international sugar market that they are farming in a sustainable manner to protect the Great Barrier Reef while maintaining productivity and profitability,” CANEGROWERS CEO Dan Galligan said.


25% of the sugarcane land from Ingham to Mossman is now accredited as being farmed at or above industry best practice and 78% is benchmarked in the Smartcane BMP program.


Joe Marano (Chairman)

"Smartcane BMP accreditation has given us a whole of farm plan that makes us consider any actions that could have an effect on water quality. Having all directors accredited gives us the confidence to go to our members and encourage them to be part of it and do their bit for Reef protection."

Victor Guarrera

"My Smartcane BMP accreditation means that I am farming to the highest level possible in my area, reducing nutrient losses and maintaining the best water quality that can be achieved. All of the Board members being accredited means that we are committed and that we value the environment."

Alan Colgrave

"As someone who farms adjacent to mangrove wetlands, achieving Smartcane BMP accreditation has given me considerable comfort to know that my farming operation achieves expectations set by markets, regulators and the community."

Wayne Gattera

"Smartcane BMP is my social licence to farm. I got a lot out of the process through workshops and engagement, it's about continuous improvement. Having the Board accredited shows that the district is committed to sustainable farming and committed to saving the Reef while also increasing productivity. It is leading by example!"

Sam Spina

"Smartcane BMP will allow our farming methods to be scrutinised as they've been found to be in accordance with both government and community expectations. Accreditation of our Board and the fact that we are leading the state in area of cane land accredited is a proud moment, not only within our district but also across all of Queensland."

What's the economic impact of Smartcane BMP?
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What's the economic impact of Smartcane BMP?

Innisfail grower Adrian Darveniza has implemented a range of best management practices on his 240ha farm that have seen the business gain Smartcane BMP accreditation.


To quantify just what the benefits have been, he’s been part of a project funded by Sugar Research Australia and investigated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to evaluate the economic and environmental implications of Smartcane BMP adoption.


Among the findings were an annual improvement in farm operating returns of $160/ha, or about $38,000 per year, through lower operating costs and productivity improvement.

Read the full summary published in SRA’s CaneCONNECTION August 2018.


Report finds Smartcane BMP growers are up to $220 per hectare per year better off.