4619.0 - Land Management Practices in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments, Preliminary, 2008-09  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/12/2009  First Issue
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December 22, 2009 Embargoed 11.30am (AEDT) 107/2009

ABS survey examines protection of the Great Barrier Reef

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has examined farming practices affecting water quality in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area.

One of the environmental pressures on the reef comes from agriculture in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, an area that stretches from the Sunshine Coast to the Daintree and many hundreds of kilometres inland.

This catchment area contains some of the richest farming land in Australia, and Queensland's farmers are under pressure to adopt land management practices to protect creeks and rivers flowing into the reef.

'The survey found major differences across the region in the take up of land management practices,' said Dr Michael Vardon, from the ABS Environment team; 'this can reflect physical conditions such as rainfall patterns, the shape of the land and river locations, as well as reflecting social and economic factors.'

'For example, mill mud and dunder [by-products of the sugar mills] are widely used as fertiliser and over a million tonnes were used during 2008-09 - but only near sugar mills; controlling run-off from these areas may need a different approach to controlling run-off from areas that receive chemical fertilisers.

'This survey gives environmental researchers a baseline to work with - they can see what is happening in different areas all across the catchment.'

The survey was funded under the Australian Governments Reef Rescue Program, and will help target areas where the major investments are needed to change farming practices.

One of the interesting findings reported by the ABS was the high rate of non-chemical weed and pest controls. A total of 60% of farms reported using mechanical controls (such as mulching), and nearly half (48%) used other non-chemical controls such as biological controls or break cropping.

The survey also found that 73% of farmers employ practices to directly manage surface water run-off and almost all (97%) farmers undertook at least one management practice (such as soil testing) to decide how much fertiliser to apply.

Further details can be found in Land Management Practices in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments, Preliminary, 2008-09 (cat. no. 4619.0) available for free download from the ABS website <www.abs.gov.au>.