Building trust with farmers and demonstrating water quality outcomes for on-farm decision-making

Northern Queensland’s thriving coastal agricultural system poses major water quality problems for the Great Barrier Reef, especially when it comes to the high levels of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) found in coastal runoff, which has major impacts on the health of Great Barrier Reef (GBR) ecosystems. Despite this, efforts to reduce DIN runoff by encouraging practice change in landowners has largely been unsuccessful. One reason identified for this was a level of distrust by farmers in the reliance on end-of-catchment sampling and modelling science. Growers along the entire catchment are often blamed for poor water quality, even those already heavily invested in changes to best practice. This Project has focused on building the necessary trust frameworks with growers by involving them in implementing fine-scale, real-time water quality monitoring along the length of the Russell-Mulgrave catchment, south of Cairns. By comparing levels of DIN and other pollutants at fine spatial and temporal scales, this project has been able to identify ‘hotspots’ of pollutant sources and differentiate them from land use areas that are compliant with water quality improvement efforts. As detailed in the project’s recently-released Technical Report, this approach has been highly successful in building trust with participating growers and is now aiming to expand to other waterways along the GBR catchment.


Photo: Aaron Davis