Growers take fight to Brisbane to protect $42 million
FARMERS working to protect the reef fear they will be hit with a nasty bureaucratic stick under new reef regulations.
Canegrowers representatives from Mackay, Proserpine, Bundaberg and Innisfail arrived in Brisbane to plead against the proposed Queensland reef bill in the second day of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry.
Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said farmers were already embracing reef protections, with a huge up tick in the voluntary Smartcane BMP program.
Mackay had 130 accredited growers and Plane Creek had 19, up from just 59 farmers 12 months ago, Mr Borg said.
The environmental program now covers 20,000 hectares, with another 191 growers in the process of becoming accredited, he said.
But despite the positive trend, Mr Borg told senators growers were feeling "bullied and disenfranchised".
He called for a collaborative approach between growers and the government, without the threat of penalties.
"Growers don't learn by being pulled from pillar to post," he said.
Mr Borg argued farmers already facing pests, disease, weather and low global prices should not fear new government penalties.
"The last thing growers need is increasing layer on layer of controls," he said.
"There's always a concern that it will not be good enough."
Proserpine manager Michael Porter told the Senate members growers cared about reef health, but were concerned about the accuracy of the government's modelling.
He said farmers feared they would struggle to meet the State Government's unrealistic deadlines and could be hit with the "blunt instrument" of fines and penalties.
Mr Borg said limits on nitrogen use would result in $42 million lost in the Mackay, Plane Creek and Proserpine regions, and the equivalent of one milling area wilting away.
And the damage would not just be contained to the farm, Mr Borg said, with families and small to medium businesses in the region to suffer.
Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the fact cane growers were adopting environmental practices was a positive sign, but questioned if additional incentives were needed.
She told Canegrower representatives that a "carrot and stick" approach could be necessary, despite the industry asking just for "carrots".