Engaging with farmers and demonstrating water quality outcomes to create confidence in on-farm decision-making (also known as Project 25)

Aaron Davis
Led by: Dr Aaron Davis, JCU


Project Summary

Recent global experiences suggest that spatially identifying and prioritizing landscape ‘hotspots’ of pollutant generation for management intervention, and small catchment-scale water quality monitoring in collaboration with landholders linking water quality with specific management practices, are among the most promising strategies for reducing water quality pollution. This project will combine recent hotspot identification in GBR sugarcane catchment of the Russel/Mulgrave with targeted cane farmer interaction activities (related to subcatchment and localized monitoring activities), focusing on emerging monitoring technologies (real-time water quality monitoring) to link farmer on-farm practices with feedback from subcatchment water quality measurements. The use of both scientific and citizen science monitoring approaches will deliver robust feedback loops to enable farmers to directly link their activities with water quality conditions. The project will focus on on-farm practice improvements in highest priority catchments to achieve maximum benefits to GBR health from catchment management actions.

Problem Statements


The most recent report card (that tracks combined Reef Plan improvements in management actions and resultant water quality load reductions towards Reef Plan targets) highlights that while landholders have made major progress in adopting improved land management practices across the Great Barrier Reef catchment, pesticide and particularly nitrogen reduction trajectories in the Qld sugar industry fall well below desired target reductions. Despite its ‘diffuse’ nature, non-point source pollution still often originates in ‘hotspots’ or ‘critical source areas’ from a small portion of the landscape (i.e. smaller subcatchment areas which make disproportionate contributions to end-of-system pollutant exports). Due to a range of program design and practical constraints, much of the current GBR Catchment water quality monitoring is focused at relatively large, often ‘end-of-catchment’ scales and relies on established water quality models to quantify pollutant export. This broad monitoring scale, and lag times between water quality collection and feedback to industry constrains landholder perceptions of links between on-farm practice and adjacent off-site water quality, Many farmers in key catchments remain unconvinced that their individual farming decisions influence the water quality for the Great Barrier Reef.

The Minister for Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt met with large scale producers in the Russell/Mulgrave River catchment and identified the need for research to engage more directly with farmers to establish strong and more tangible feedback loops. The Minister proposed an approach that engages growers through a citizen science monitoring program conjoined with a robust scientific monitoring program to enable real-time feedback loops. This approach will enable growers to participate directly in the monitoring design and collection of results.

How Research Addresses Problem

This Real Time Water Quality Monitoring Program (RTWQM) will pilot small, sub-catchment scale water quality monitoring for other key cane growing regions across the GBR catchment, as part of an integrated monitoring and intervention framework. This program will utilize emerging real time water quality monitoring (RTWQM) technologies including sensor and telemetry technologies that provide continuous measurement of nitrogen water quality concentrations. Growers will ‘steer’ the research effort and will be able to identify ‘hot spot’ sub-catchment through comparative analysis of the water quality data. This comparative information will provide the basis for capturing and identifying practice change over time. Learnings emerging from these small scale models will inform a range of broader extension activities in other district relating to water quality issues. A range of additional water quality information strategies (standard extension approaches, science provider/researcher liaison and presentations) will also be integrated with local monitoring to provide a broad range of communication mediums to involved canegrowers.

Alignment with NESP Research Priorities

1a) Local scale identification of priority contaminant export loss (hot spots) for better targeting of on-ground works and ‘tailored extension’ activity.

1c) Develop/evaluate practical on-farm nutrient and sediment loss mitigation and capture and land management practices that will influence behavioural change and improve water quality outcomes –link to field trials.

1e) New methods for encouraging behaviour/practice change/improving compliance with BMP.

Project Keywords

Nutrients; Pesticides; Sugarcane; Spatial targeting; Monitoring; Practice change.

Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, DEHP, DAF, DSITIA and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.

Project Publications
Magazine Article
Magazine Article




Project Videos

Science Day, 20th November, Townsville



Project Map

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