Sugar partnership accelerates practice change

By Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership

The cane industry, natural resource management, and government agencies in the Wet Tropics in Queensland have formed a unique partnership to work together on improving land management practices.

The Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP, pronounced ‘witsip’) is the first of its kind in Australia and a significant change for the industry. Previously, external pressure to shift farming practices led to many water quality projects being delivered by a variety of organisations with different goals and perspectives.

Now, the industry is evolving and many of these organisations are collaborating to improve grower yields and profits as well as water quality.

Mossman cane grower Chris McClelland talks to WTSIP Regional Extension Officer Daryl Parker.

WTSIP Chair Joe Marano says the partnership is determined to make sure that growers benefit from investment coming into the region to improve water quality and is focused on delivering industry-led training and extension.

“It became obvious that after several years of funding through Reef Rescue incentive grants to growers, there was an opportunity for us to collaborate on providing industry-led extension support.

“Many cane growers have been able to upgrade their equipment, but we knew that they would get even greater value out of this equipment if we enhanced their knowledge with extension support,” Joe said.

“The best way to deliver this is by collaborating. We’ve recruited a network of 10 extension officers that are hosted within our partner organisations so they’re embedded within industry networks. This approach enables us to benefit from integrating our activities as well as sharing ideas and innovations. It’s a win-win for growers as well as water quality.”

Carole Sweatman, CEO of Terrain NRM, said there were already tangible benefits of the industry working together towards the same purpose.

“Industry bodies, productivity services, sugar research, millers and natural resource management now sit around the same table taking responsibility for making collective decisions for the good of the industry. This is producing better results on the ground for growers and as a consequence more funding is being channelled through this partnership arrangement,” Carol said.

While growers are continually making improvements to their practices, Peter Sheedy, Manager of CANEGROWERS – Herbert River, said WTSIP is sparking quicker and broader adoption of practice change.

“The cane industry has made huge shifts in practice change over the last few years and the big winner has been water quality. The Wet Tropics Pilot Report Card, released in December 2016, scored all of our catchments as ‘moderate’, a reasonably good result that surprised many, but reflects how much effort has been channelled into reducing runoff from farms.

“Because WTSIP is industry-led, it creates more trust with growers and will hopefully lead to longer term sustained engagement. It has already allowed us to engage with the vast majority of growers in our region and they’re more involved. Because of that we’re in a stronger position to act as a catalyst for practice change,” Peter said.

For more information visit www.wtsip.org.au or contact Elaine Seager at Elaine.seager@wtsip.org.au, or 0418 710701.

Mossman cane grower Chris McClelland talks to WTSIP District Extension Officer Tim Liebelt.

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