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4619.0.55.001 - Land Management Practices in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments, Final, 2008-09  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 23/04/2010  First Issue
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Wet Tropics NRM region


The Wet Tropics NRM region spans 8 catchments and covers 2.2 million hectares in far north Queensland of which 0.8 million hectares is land mainly used for agricultural production. Cairns is the major urban centre of the region. Large areas of National Parks and State Forests cover much of the region while sugar cane growing was the most common agricultural activity. The land is generally close to the coast with very high rainfall. The largest catchment in this NRM region is the Herbert River catchment (988,401 hectares) with 59% of the land mainly used for agricultural production. The Daintree River catchment (192,032 hectares) had the smallest proportion of land mainly used for agricultural production (6%) reflecting the significance of the national parks and state forests in this region.

Over half (55%) of the holdings in Wet Tropics NRM region grew sugar cane, 41% reported keeping beef cattle, 20% were engaged in horticulture and 3% reported growing broadacre crops.

In the 2006 Census of Population and Housing, 2,809 usual residents of the Wet Tropics NRM region had a farmer and farm manager occupation related to the agricultural activities in this survey. Sugar cane growing was the occupation of 1,317 usual residents, beef cattle farming was the occupation of 446 usual residents, 779 usual residents had horticulture farming as their occupation and broadacre farming was the occupation for 267 usual residents. Please refer to paragraph 16 of the explanatory notes for a detailed description of the inscope occupations.

LAND USE IN THE WET TROPICS NRM REGION
AREA OF HOLDINGS (a)
Total catchment area
National parks, State forests and conservation parks
Recreational parks and reserves
Land mainly used for agricultural production
Land area not used for agricultural production
(b)
Urban areas (c)
Remainder of the area (d)
Hectares

Daintree River
192 032
57 701
66 859
12 374
11 067
1 455
42 576
Mossman River
53 847
23 592
1 059
4 224
1 607
4 433
18 932
Barron River
215 265
78 985
4066
59 127
5 734
12 248
55 105
Mulgrave-Russell River
199 972
73 743
27 701
29 310
6 453
11 157
51 608
Johnstone River
232 950
92 171
2 286
58 845
8 555
4 723
66 370
Tully River
164 634
83 641
27 590
32 420
6 212
3 560
11 211
Murray River (QLD)
119 743
73 415
80
24 443
4 842
908
16 055
Herbert River
988 401
242 224
7 997
583 110
43 406
4 837
106 827
Total Wet Tropics NRM
2 166 844
725 472
137 638
803 853
87 876
43 321
368 684

Source: Land Management Practices in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments, 2008-09 (cat. no. 4619.0.55.001) and Greenspace areas calculated from mapping data supplied by PSMA.

(a) Area of holdings inscope of the survey.
(b) Includes land set aside on the holding for conservation/protection purposes as well as other areas on agricultural holdings not used for agricultural production (houses and buildings, services and access areas, water bodies, mining leases where the lease area cannot be used for agriculture and any other agriculturally unproductive area or inaccessible areas).
(c) The urban areas are as defined by the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. In some cases urban areas cross catchment boundaries. Where this occurs the urban area is classified as being in the catchment where most of the urban area lies.
(d) Includes infrastructure (roads, bridges, service easements etc) and water features (dams, rivers etc) as well as any land not covered by the scope of the Land Management Practices Survey 2008-09.





Catchments within the Wet Tropics NRM


Daintree River catchment

The Daintree River catchment is the northernmost catchment in this survey, located about 100km northwest of Cairns. National parks and state forests, including the world famous Daintree Rainforest, comprise the bulk of the area in the catchment with land mainly used for agricultural production (106 holdings) covering just 6% of this catchment. Land holders have set aside land for conservation or protection purposes and this land covers a further 5% of the catchment. Beef cattle grazing (48 holdings) and sugar cane (46 holdings) were the most common agricultural activities.

The majority of holdings (79%) in this catchment applied chemicals with 61% of all holdings identifying the use of mechanical slashing as an alternate non-chemical method for weed, pest or disease control.

Grazing on improved pastures accounted for almost two thirds (62%) of the total area grazed. Of holdings keeping beef cattle, 30% actively controlled stock access to riparian areas and 59% practised rotational grazing or cell grazing.

In this catchment, 73% of holdings growing sugar cane reported leaving their crop residue untouched, compared to rates of above 80% in most of the other catchments in the Wet Tropics NRM region. Over half (58%) of the holdings reported the cost of fertiliser influenced the decision on how much fertiliser to apply. Soil testing was used by 51% of holdings as part of the fertiliser application decision making process.


Mossman River catchment

The Mossman River catchment is the smallest of the Great Barrier Reef catchments with a total area of 53,847 hectares, located between Cairns and Daintree. Similar to the Daintree catchment, most of the land is comprised of national parks and state forests, including the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Land mainly used for agricultural activity (64 holdings) accounted for only 8% or 4,224 hectares of the catchment area. The predominant agricultural activity is sugar cane growing (54 holdings), with minimal other activity.

Water run-off management practices most commonly utilised in the catchment included the use of grassed or rubble spoon drains (69%) and maintaining at least forty percent ground cover on paddocks at the end of the 2008 dry season (73%).

Approximately 90% of all holdings used fertiliser, with mill mud/ash being the main fertiliser used, accounting for 84% of fertiliser usage in this cane growing region. In this catchment, 54% of holdings changed farm layout to industry best practice in order to avoid "off farm" chemical loss, with 40% also practising good farm hygiene as an alternate control method for weeds, pests or diseases.

The application of fertiliser and soil testing were significant issues for holdings growing sugar cane throughout the catchment. Of the 78% of holdings undertaking soil testing, 76% of these holdings conducted the testing prior to planting. When considering how much fertiliser to apply, 59% of holdings considered the latest industry recommended rates. The most commonly used method for fertiliser application was banded surface application (85%) with 65% applying fertiliser at the post harvest crop stage.

In this catchment, 12% of holdings growing sugar cane reported the hot burning of trash, although the total area of trash removed by hot burn was very small, while 86% reported they left some or all of their sugar cane trash untouched.


Barron River catchment

The Barron River catchment covers an area of 215,265 hectares with the Barron River headwaters located near Atherton, and the river flowing north and east, before meeting the Pacific Ocean at Cairns. Land mainly used for agricultural production (568 holdings) makes up 28% of the catchment (59,127 hectares), most of this in the west, with National parks and State forests predominant in the centre and near the coast. The catchment features a variety of agricultural activities, with horticulture and grazing being particularly significant. Grazing (348 holdings) accounts for two thirds of the agricultural land area, although the grazing properties in this catchment are relatively small in comparison to those operating in the bigger catchments to the south and further inland.

Chemical fertiliser comprised 77% (13,352 tonnes) of the total fertiliser used across the catchment, with "other" fertilisers accounting for 20% (3,404 tonnes) and animal manure used for the remaining 3% (584 tonnes).

In this catchment, 34% of holdings engaged in horticulture reported the use of alternate or cover crops, 31% having wheel spacing matching row spacing for all equipment, along with 6% using Global Positioning System (GPS) guided steering technology. The majority of holdings (90%) engaged in horticulture irrigated their crop, with 87% of those who irrigated utilising efficient irrigation equipment along with 36% introducing more efficient irrigation scheduling as part of their irrigation water management practices.

Stock in riparian areas was actively controlled by 21% of holdings keeping beef cattle, with 18% fully fencing of riparian areas and establishing alternate water points.


Mulgrave-Russell Rivers catchment

The Mulgrave Russell Rivers catchment (199,972 hectares) extends south from Cairns along the coast for approximately 70 km stopping just north of Innisfail. Both the Mulgrave and Russell Rivers drain mountainous terrain, which includes Queensland's highest peak, Bartle Frere. The catchment features some of the highest rainfall in Australia with an average rainfall of around 3,000 mm. Many areas throughout the catchment are prone to flooding in periods of high rainfall. Much of the catchment is forested, with land mainly used for agricultural production (343 holdings) covering 15% of the total area of the catchment. Sugar cane (239 holdings) is the most commonly grown crop.

The timing of fertiliser application at crop stage in holdings growing sugar cane was 49% for pre harvest, 61% for post harvest and 70% while crops were actively growing. External factors were commonly used in deciding fertiliser application rates with economic and productivity advice (49%) along with latest industry recommended rates (47%) and nutrient credits obtained from legumes and other nitrogen producing fallow crops (41%).

In this catchment 38% of holdings growing sugar cane incorporated crop residue into the soil, a considerably higher rate than those reported in surrounding catchments.

Beef cattle was grazed on 5,068 hectares of improved pastures, which represented 71% of the total land grazed.


Johnstone River catchment

The Johnstone River catchment contains the North and South Johnstone Rivers that discharge near Innisfail, covering an area of 232,950 hectares. The headwaters of the catchment are located in high rainfall areas with both rivers prone to flooding, particularly in the Innisfail area with both residential and agricultural areas at risk. Land mainly used for agricultural production (706 holdings) covers 25% (58,845 hectares) of the land area in the catchment, with sugar cane growing (318 holdings), horticulture (161 holdings) and beef cattle grazing (355 holdings) all common activities.

Land managers cited cost of fertiliser (61%) and economic or productivity advice (67%) as the main factors in deciding how much fertiliser to apply across the catchment. In total, 60% of holdings reported using fertiliser with mill mud/ash (51,666 tonnes) and chemical fertiliser (16,172 tonnes) the most common types of fertiliser applied.

A variety of alternate control methods for weeds, pests or diseases were used by the 23% of holdings engaged in horticulture throughout this catchment. Over half (52%) used chemicals considered to be more environmentally friendly, 55% used mechanical cultivation, 84% utilised mechanical slashing, and 50% reported practising good farm hygiene. Practices to avoid "off farm" chemical loss were also widely used with 61% changing farm layout to industry best practice. Seven percent of horticultural holdings complied with the National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic Produce (NSOBP).

In this catchment, over half (52%) of those holdings keeping beef cattle practised rotational or cell grazing along with 54% destocking/stocking according to climate and pasture conditions.


Tully River catchment

The Tully River catchment (164,634 hectares) has 68% of the land mass covered by parks, ranging from National Parks to recreational reserves. Similar to other catchments in the Wet Tropics NRM region, the Tully River is prone to flooding. Land mainly used for agricultural production (195 holdings) makes up 20% of the catchment. Sugar cane growing (126 holdings) is the most common agricultural activity, most of which is located around Tully and along the lower stretches of the Tully river. Some horticulture (47 holdings) and beef cattle grazing (55 holdings) is also present.

The most common water run-off management practices throughout the catchment were ensuring at least forty percent ground cover remained on paddocks at the end of the 2008 dry season (46%), the maintenance of at least forty percent ground cover in riparian areas and/or constructed waterways (34%) and the use of recycling pits or sediment dams (29%). There were 69,442 tonnes of fertiliser applied in this catchment during 2008-09, including 20,250 tonnes of chemical fertiliser and 43,574 tonnes of mill mud/ash.

Of holdings growing sugar cane, 58% calibrated chemical application equipment on a calendar basis and 53% whenever a new product was used. Alternate control methods for weeds, pests or diseases were widely utilised, in particular, 64% used chemicals considered to be more environmentally friendly, 62% incorporated mechanical slashing and 51% reported the practice of good farm hygiene. Farm layout was also reported to be changed in order to meet industry best practices in 58% of holdings and 60% used cover crops or inter row mulching to avoid further "off farm" chemical loss.

Stock access to riparian areas was actively controlled by 23% of those keeping beef cattle with creeks or rivers located on their holdings. In addition, 31% constructed cattle ramps into the creek or river banks to further minimise riparian damage.


Murray River (Qld) catchment

The Murray River (Qld) catchment is a small catchment covering an area of 119,743 hectares. The agricultural profile (144 holdings) is similar to that of the Tully River catchment to the north, the most common activity being sugar cane growing (93 holdings), supplemented by some beef cattle grazing ( 55 holdings) and horticulture (45 holdings). National Parks also make up a large part of the catchment with land mainly used for agricultural production comprising just 20% of the land in the catchment. Land set aside for conservation and/or protection purposes represented 10% or 2,945 hectares of agricultural land throughout the catchment.

Biological controls (ie by introducing parasites, predators or pathogens as an alternate control method for weeds, pests or diseases) were used by 17% of all holdings in this catchment.

The most commonly reported water run-off practices undertaken by all holdings was to ensure that at least forty percent ground cover remained on paddocks at the end of the 2008 dry season (51%), having grassed or rubble spoon drains (49%) and the maintenance of at least forty percent ground cover in riparian areas and/or constructed waterways (47%).

In this catchment, 42% of holdings keeping beef cattle actively controlled stock access to riparian areas, 8% of holdings fully fenced off riparian areas and established alternate water points, and 5% constructed cattle ramps into creek and river banks to further minimise riparian damage.


Herbert River catchment

The Herbert River catchment is significantly larger than other catchments in the Wet Tropics NRM region being 988,401 hectares in size. This is over 4 times larger than the next largest catchment, Johnston River. It extends much further inland than the other Wet Tropics NRM region catchments. The western part of the catchment includes a significant amount of inland grazing land with large holdings and much lower rainfall than is experienced along the coast. The eastern (coastal) part of the catchment features extensive sugar cane activity. Land mainly used for agricultural production (677 holdings) covers 59% of the catchment with sugar cane the dominant activity (561 holdings).

Just over 90% of holdings in this catchment reported applying herbicides. This was the highest proportion of all 28 GBR catchments. A total of 98,665 tonnes of fertiliser were applied in the catchment during 2008-09, with the amount of chemical fertiliser applied (27,212 tonnes) being the highest of all 28 catchments. There was 67,713 tonnes of mill mud/ash applied.

Throughout the entire catchment, 527,222 hectares (53%) of the land was used by the 176 holdings keeping beef cattle. Grazing on improved pastures accounted for 12% (61,150 hectares) of total grazing land. Stock access to riparian areas was actively controlled in 35% of holdings keeping beef cattle, with 26% reporting that these riparian areas had been fully fenced off and alternate water points established.

In this catchment, 58% of holdings growing sugar cane reported the use of wheel spacing for all equipment and marching row spacing, 49% reported applying GPS guided steering technology and 27% reported incorporating permanent traffic lanes. Most (92%) of these holdings reported leaving some or all of their sugar cane trash untouched.




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