Chapter 7

Cooperation and collaboration

A key theme arising from the committee's inquiry focused upon the importance of the proper engagement with primacy producers, and for strengthening cooperation and collaboration between scientists, farmers and governments as a means to improve agricultural practices, support environmental outcomes and foster trust.
This chapter considers evidence about the role of engagement between the agricultural sector and Reef scientists, and existing and future opportunities for cooperative and collaborative projects to support water quality outcomes. This chapter concludes with an analysis of the adequacy of existing funding arrangements for research and development for both the agricultural sector and Reef science.

Collaboration and cooperation between scientists and the agricultural sector

The committee heard from numerous witnesses and submitters about the benefits of collaboration and cooperation between farmers and scientists. These collaborative projects have been shown to improve the uptake of best management programs, to improve the profitability of farmers' enterprises and improve environmental outcomes, including water quality within the Reef. Universities Australia, the Australian Academy of Science (the Academy) and Science and Technology Australia also emphasised that collaborations between science and farmers has 'helped protect crops and develop new industries for farmers to profit from'.1
Dr Pedro Fidelman highlighted the benefits of cross-sectoral collaboration that 'drive agricultural innovations that succeed in reducing farm pollutants entering waterways whilst boosting profitability'. Further, Dr Fidelman opined that the Queensland Government's Reef regulations 'may provide opportunities for environmentally sustainable industries to flourish' and that these opportunities should be capitalised on by identifying 'effective portals and pathways for driving collaboration amongst industry bodies, all levels of government and research organisations'.2
Whilst collaboration and cooperation is vital, the committee heard that over time these relationships between the agricultural sector and scientists had become strained, especially in light of the Queensland Government's Reef regulations. Canegrowers Mackay iterated that farmers 'learn by holding their hand' rather than 'being belted from pillar to post'.3 AgForce commented that the best management program started as 'a true collaboration' for grazing and grains. Despite its initial success, AgForce's members expressed concern about the complexity and reliance upon data from the Paddock to the Reef program, which led to the 'ABCD practice framework [becoming] the norm and…industry's voice was smothered by layers of expert opinion and bureaucracy'. AgForce subsequently no longer felt like a partner, rather the:
…culprit of poor water quality causing a dying Reef, and in our view nothing could be further from the truth. So we started very energetically very keen on a genuine collaboration and on voluntary practice change. In those early years through the peer reviewed learning process, which was central to those BMP programs, we made strong process. But for the reasons I've outlined those programs have fallen away.4
Canegrowers Herbert River also spoke of the importance of collaboration between farmers and scientists, and that the 'very obvious flaw in the whole system is a disconnect between growers and the scientists', which has been highlighted that the debate concerning the Reef regulations. During a site visit to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Canegrowers Herbert River noticed scientists lacked a proper understanding of farming practices:
In speaking to the scientists and talking about our farm practices, they were completely oblivious to what happens on farm and were surprised at the level of engagement that growers have with their impact on the environment, be it positive or negative. They were unaware of all the practices. They only ever used one part of recorded data and they don't use any of the BMP data. That was a huge surprise to me.5
Scientific research bodies spoke of measures to foster collaboration and engagement with the agricultural sector. AIMS advised the committee that it has for a long time provided outreach services to farmers and growers throughout the Reef's catchment regions. These activities include site visits and sending its scientists to meet with agricultural stakeholders. It also emphasised that all of its research is published online for the general public.6 However, when asked whether AIMS engaged with on-farm activities, AIMS responded that it does not '[b]ecause we're marine scientists, we are not involved in any of the on-farm processes. We don't know anything about farm processes. That's not what we comment on' rather '[w]e're trying to say, if product X or compound Y gets into the Reef then this is what it does'.7
On-farm support to farmers was raised by TropWATER. It informed the committee that one of its key roles is to 'bridge the gap between science and the more-practical, on-ground aspects of water quality'. TropWATER spoke of its 'direct engagement with key agricultural industries at the coalface of better water quality management', having established relationships with the sugar industry representatives, as well as other commodities such as bananas.8
As part of this engagement, TropWATER referenced its collaborative study projects, in partnership with the industry's research body Sugar Research Australia to deal specifically with on-ground farm management practice issues. TropWATER also noted that it was part of productivity boards and extension arms supporting the agricultural sector.9 Despite the array of engagement activities, TropWATER acknowledged that communication and engagement with stakeholders can always improve; however, concerning water quality issues specifically, added 'it's certainly not breaking news or completely novel information that's being pitched to industry at the moment'.10
The committee also heard that the agricultural sector, once engaged, is extremely receptive to utilising science as a means to improve agricultural practices. Griffith University reflected upon its experience working with graziers and overcoming initial resistance to science-informed practice change:
…we work closely with graziers. I can think of a number of places where we've worked with graziers where there has initially been resistance to what we were saying in terms of the amount of erosion on an individual property. However, once they’ve actually seen the data and are shown things like historical aerial photographs, and once we have spent time down at the local pub talking to them, invariably they come around. I think this is the way to go, working hand in hand with farmers and graziers, particularly providing the data back to them so they can actually see it and explain it to them. They can then go, 'Okay, I can see what you're talking about now.' We now have graziers who a few years ago were pretty resistant to working on gully rehab projects and are now beating down the doors at the local NRM agencies to have them involved and working on their properties.11
The Independent Science Panel also observed a high degree of collaboration and partnership between industry, scientists and natural resource managers, who all have approached the water quality issue in 'quite the opposite of the sort of antagonistic process that we're kind of getting a bit of right now'. The Independent Science Panel added that the scientific community 'have sought collaborative arrangements where all the stakeholders in the problem have actually contributed to finding potential solutions' and that scientists are not seeking to find fault or blame with any group concerning the Reef. Rather, they are simply reporting the facts of what is observed.12
CSIRO advised the committee that a lot of work has been conducted to introduce farming communities to the science, and looking at ways to connect farmers with scientists to work together 'to understand the problem better at a local scale and to develop cooperative solutions to fixing those problems'. In addition, the CSIRO highlighted its social and economic research over the past 10 to 15 years that has sought to understand farmers' experiences with land management practice change, to explore how they engage with government programs and funding initiatives, and to understand 'some of the potential costs to their farm business associated with those changes'.13
Despite positive references to engagement between scientists and industry, the Australian National University encouraged the committee to ensure the inquiry outcome includes more engagement:
We would encourage that any process coming out of this would include more engagement between the stakeholders in the agricultural sector and the stakeholders in the reef sector, and the researchers in both and the policymakers in both, to ensure that the optimal outcomes are achieved, and that the optimal decisions are made that lead to triple-bottom-line wins.14
In addition, Dr Natalie Jones spoke of the value in building forums to foster trust and collaboration between the scientific and agricultural sectors. She was of the view that these forums would create a space where the science isn't denied, but there is equal importance to hear from and engage farmers within the scientific process.15 Dr Jones called for a bottom-up approach 'where you have farmers right at the point of defining the problem, deciding how people are going to engage'. Dr Jones also emphasised the important role of citizen science, especially for farmers who have firsthand experience of land management practices. Through this type of engagement, the scientific community gain an improved understanding of what is happening on the land, as well as fostering trust. In addition:
It's going to build relationships and give them their voice. They can see how decisions are made. So any way that we can create these forums of collaboration—how we create those forums as well. You need to have the farmers input on that. It can't be the government saying, 'This is how we're going do it.' It can't be industry saying, 'This is how we're going to do it.' You need to have farmers right there at the beginning, defining what the problem is and also defining how we're going to work together and what the rules of engagement are.16
The value of collaboration through citizen science was also emphasised by Canegrowers, who argued it yielded better results than a regulatory framework (see Collaborative projects for further information). Canegrowers described farmers' experience having received funding to measure nutrients leaving their farms. With this funding, farmers built testing stations and tested the water every time it rained. This led to growers coming together to understand the test results and to alter 'behaviour in terms of understanding the date of that water quality'. Canegrowers added that the:
…model of cooperating is going on everywhere. But, despite all of that work, what we got from the state government was a big, bureaucratic model where we've got to fill in paperwork and we've got to do this, that and everything else. We are not optimising the public input to get the best environmental dividend, because the model of a regulatory approach is wrong. It doesn't get the big bang in terms of an environmental dividend that cooperation would get.17
Whilst there were numerous calls for the promotion of scientific initiatives that promote citizen science, the committee was also advised of the increased demand of farmers to monitor pollutants (either as part of a regulated monitoring program or through voluntary projects). For this reason, the ANU called for additional support for farmers to meet these monitoring requirements.18 The ANU also supported additional investment into the workforce to strengthen land rehabilitation efforts. The investment into land care jobs would provide farmers with additional resources to be supported by on-ground professionals who can fix the problems and find solutions.19
Discussions about trust broadened to include the public's trust in science and the impact of actions to target the scientific community during public policy debates. Concerning the overall trust of science in Australia, Science and Technology Australia iterated the value and respect for scientists:
Australians do value and respect the incredible expertise that we have in our scientific communities. They understand that we have many, many scientists working across this country who have invested lifetimes in developing highly expert specialist skills to bring those skills to the service of the nation, its people and its policymakers. I think there is enormous regard across the Australian population for that really important service that our scientific community contribute to the nation and our knowledge base.20
This view was also shared by the Academy, which submitted that:
Australians trust science, and trust scientists. This trust has developed because the scientific process is based on a fidelity to data, a robust peer review process, and a respect for the expertise embedded in scientists and scientific organisations like the CSIRO, AIMS and Australian universities.21
However, the Academy added that this trust has been eroded because of the 'seeding of doubt', which has subsequently led to the community feeling confused and 'unable to receive information that is accurate and informed'.22
The CSIRO explained the situation regarding the Reef and the absence of trust between the scientific and agricultural communities is not new, but at its core it 'comes down to community trust and what's required for community to take trust into the way in which science is conducted'.23 The challenge faced by the scientific community is the difficulty 'to prove a negative' and once a story or conspiracy is in place, it is difficult to undo due to science being a 'complex process and capable of a number of different perceptions and…misunderstandings about what weighting to put onto different approaches'. To address this issue, the CSIRO emphasised the importance of transparency:
I think that the role of scientists is to be as transparent about what the process is and why that process is the process that's being used. I think that a common issue is that scientists say, 'If I explain the logic everybody will get it.' Actually, it's not just a matter of logic; you have to put the logic out there but you've got to put it out there in such a way that people understand that you have a common value set with the community, and that's the relationship, at the end of the day, on which the decisions are going to be made as to whether or not the science is trustworthy in order to be used for policy purposes. That's the conundrum.24
The CSIRO added the problem for the scientific community is its ability to communicate beyond logic is not particularly good, and what's required is for scientists 'to take a step back and recognise that it's not just logic that's going to win the day, that actually you have to win people's trust and that's a values judgement'.25
This seeding of doubt and the polarisation of views about science was also raised by the Independent Science Panel. Dr Peter Doherty opined that the mistrust in science:
I'd have to say it's a somewhat regrettable problem in that you see a mistrust in a whole variety of mechanisms that we've relied upon in the past. There's a new freedom to question, and it's really widespread. I think this is a little part of that more general thing, although I understand that, when it comes to things like reef regulations, there's a degree of self-interest that's also involved.26
Similarly, Dr Roger Shaw added that polarisation has become worse; however, identified the potential for integrating a 'collaborative adversary process' to inform the publication of scientific papers:
…we've tended to polarise more than we used to do in years gone past. We polarise, but we don't have the mechanism where we bring people together with different views. Now we're starting to do that. There's a process in place with canegrowers to try and resolve some of the differences, and there's a paper out in the scientific literature now about the 'collaborative adversary process'. You bring together the people with different views, and there might be common data or repetition. Then you work out the terms of reference, and the end result is a jointly published scientific paper. The advantage of that is that we don't have letters to the editor saying, 'This is bad,' and then recounts of it. It's been tried and it's worked. So I think that's probably the best mechanism. I'm not sure it's going to get to the farmer level, but I think we can deal with different scientific viewpoints.27

Collaborative projects

The committee was advised of several successful collaborative projects that vary across regions, and target different industries and pollutants.28 Most importantly, these projects demonstrate what can be achieved through collaborative partnerships between farmers, scientists and governments. For example, Project Bluewater, a pesticide project ran by pharmacists who work alongside landholders and canefarmers to implement practical changes across their farm, such as spray rig nozzle replacement, pesticide management plans and the incorporation of new technologies into farming practices. In total, Project Bluewater supported 70 canefarmers, covering 10,000 hectares and costing $1.2 million.29 The committee was advised of Project Pioneer, which received $2.9 million of Reef Trust funding to provide in-farm support and education and professional advice to graziers seeking to transition to a 'more resilient, productive and profitable business and landscape' model. As of December 2018, the project had achieved more than 1.2 million hectares of land under improved practices, with 150 graziers adopting the program, and 300 more completing formal training. Its success subsequently led to its extension, with an addition $2.9 million as part of the Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.30
The Australian Government's Reef Rescue program, which is part of the National Landcare Program, was also discussed by various sugarcane groups. The Australian Government had previously committed $200 million over five years (2008–09 to 2012–13) to improve water quality entering the Reef. Over 3,200 individual land managers received water quality grants for on-farm projects. Between 2013–18, the Reef Programme received $64 million for water quality grants and a further $3 million allocated to Water Quality Partnerships. Funding had been made available through the 2013–14 Reef Rescue guidelines.31
Other projects that support water quality improvement outcomes in the Reef included the Burdekin District Nitrogen Trails, the Reef Alliance Project,32 the MSP Sugar Project,33 Project Cane Changer,34 the Gully and Streambank Erosion Control Program,35 National Environmental Science Program projects,36 and the RP161 Complete Nutrient Management Planning for Cane Farming program.37
A number of witnesses and submitters made special reference to the success of the major integrated projects (MIPs).38 These MIPs are small scale monitoring programs that seek to reduce nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads into waterways through a range of piloted actions with producers and the broader community. Each MIP is tailored to the needs of landholders that live in those areas, including landscape restoration activities. MIPs support farming communities by providing timely feedback from monitoring and supports producers' capacity to maintain sustainable farm management practices. One of the aims of MIPs is to ensure local water quality continues to improve beyond the life of the MIPs.39
The Australian Banana Growers Council (ABGC) also called for more collaboration between industry, community and government through MIPs. The ABGC explained that these projects supported growers in the Tully and Johnstone catchments to be involved in 'designing trials, taking water quality samples and learning about the link between spraying practices and risks to water quality'.40
The Johnson-Tully area also received $15 million in funds through the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce as part of a broader $50 million major integrated project over three years. This project supports:
…local scale monitoring; farm services extension program; Our Catchments, Our Communities; working with landholders; influencing the understanding of impediments from government regulation to do things; and catchment repair. The local scale monitoring is very expensive, out of reach of growers, but it's working; it's collecting data.41
The Department of Environment and Science (DES) noted that MIPs, such as a program running Sandy Creek and historically done in Herbert River, feed data into the Paddock to the Reef program. The DES confirmed its preference and intention to establish more MIPs in 2020; however, a barrier to their expansion is costs. To address this issue, the Queensland Government ran an innovation challenge to develop cheaper nitrogen senses. Although the initiative was not successful, the DES believed this innovative approach 'took the science for nitrogen sending a little bit further'.42

Project 25

One project highlighted with the committee was Project 25. The rationale for Project 25 is to support sugarcane farmers' engagement with understanding their contribution to water quality issues. The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) explained the importance of stakeholder engagement and doing its research 'hand-in-hand with stakeholders', which ultimately fosters trust between scientist and farms.43 It sought to address the issue that farmers concerns about predictive end-of-catchment modelling; instead, developing Project 25 to establish a real-time monitoring program led by farmers in the Russell-Mulgrave catchment. The project included all growers, but specifically targeted larger operations who would have a larger impact on water quality improvement. These farmers led the program, whilst the RRRC 'provided the science and the underpinning technology'.44 The RRRC explained the benefit of the Project 25 model:
When growers can actually direct and control their own management agenda and see what's going on, we do actually see commitment buy-in and change. That's my big message here: we have technology now that we didn't have 20 or 30 years ago, and yet we still tend to bash the same old drums that went on all those years ago. We need to move forward. That technology allows us to identify hotspots, it allows us to identify what growers are responsible for and what they're not responsible for, and it allows us to go back to our basic principles of 'more pollution is bad and less pollution is good' and losing nutrients in soil from your property is a bad thing. So we've gone back to those real basics and worked closely with growers to get the outcome.45
The DES explained the origins of Project 25, as a small-scale monitoring program. To facilitate trust, the data collected by Project 25 was not published or feeding into any broader reporting framework.46 Project 25 is a pilot program cost $1.2 million to run over four years and with avenues for growth with additional funding.47
Project 25 was endorsed by one of its key stakeholders, Canegrowers Cairns Region. Its representative, Mr Stephen Calcagno, explained that Project 25's initial intent was to validate the modelling for data collected at the end of the Russell and the Mulgrave catchment river systems, which growers in the region viewed with scepticism. Mr Calcagno detailed the elements that made Project 25 a success:
The whole project is grower driven. A leading group of growers formed it and we control it. We segregated rainforest, caneland and urban land so that we could focus on where the hotspots were and get growers to accept scientific data. Within this project, we focused on five pillars. We get upset when people say it's just a water quality sampling program. It's much more than that. Of course it is sampling and analysis. That's the first thing. That goes from live logging to snap samples. [James Cook University] are involved. [The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries] is involved.
The second part of the program leads on to education. We take those results—what we can get—and educate the growers. But also we've got a collaboration with scientists as well. That's been one of the positives out of this. Where the scientists initially had a top-down approach, telling you what you were doing wrong, this is a bottom-up approach. So we go in it together. It's good to see that actually the scientists have learnt a lot as well along the way from the challenges.
The third pillar is that, from that, we go to acceptance and understanding of the results. That's built in with the trust framework. The data is confidential and we educate the growers and everyone about that data. The fourth and most important thing we focus on going through is removing the blame game, because everyone wants to blame everyone else for what's happening. I think that's been a real success of the program. It just eliminates that from the system so that you take ownership of what your impact on the environment is. The fifth and final thing is leading practice change on the ground.
So this project, like I say, initially was to validate the modelling. We have found some flaws in some results that were getting attributed to us.48
Canegrowers Cairns Region made clear that the Project 25 is 'the model going forward' because it's on the ground, is educational and provides growers with confidence. Vitally, it is 'scientists and the growers working together for a common good'. Rather than being distracted by politics and ideology, Canegrowers Cairns Region emphasised the importance of the common good to look after the Reef and the industry's impact on the environment, and added '[e]veryone has an impact on the environment. So the whole idea is: how do we minimise it?'.49

Research and development

A key part of these collaborative projects is research and development, with a specific focus on developing technologies to support farmers with improving their on-farm systems.50 As noted by Dr Geoff Garrett, farmers are 'greedy gobblers for new technology' and with the right technology and understanding, farming practices can drastically improve because they are 'competitive animals' and:
When you can prove to them that not only will they improve their water quality but they'll make increased profits out of it because they're putting less fertiliser on and getting better results, better yields, then they say, 'This is a no-brainer.'51
Incitec Pivot Fertilisers (IPF) called for more research to develop more efficient fertiliser products, such as inhibitors, and innovative application technologies. It envisioned a future where fertiliser application rates can be applied at a varied rate across a paddock for further optimisation.52 In addition, IPF supported the development and improvement of the CSIRO's Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator model (APSIM) 'to give the industry a more complete picture of the economic and ecological outcomes of the farm management systems' and to be more specific to sugar cane production areas.53 It also emphasised the unique nature of farming, that soils differ across regions and for this reason, fertiliser use and techniques may vary across regions and require different solutions. A unifying factor amongst this diversity is the collective desire by farmers to farm more efficiently, driven by more education and extension.54
The Australian National University (ANU) detailed some of the promising technologies being used to support farmers and environmental outcomes. It spoke of water purification technologies, remote sensing and satellite use to support input efficiency, artificial intelligence to capture the growth and health of plants to inform nutrient needs and optimising the photosynthesis in plants to improve nitrogen uptake.55 Of these technologies, the committee explored in more detail the use of nitrogen-fixing bacteria by sugarcane farmers in Brazil.56
The ANU pointed out that Australia has a very good industry for producing nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can be affordably used by farmers to increase yield and reduce fertiliser use, and called for its adoption across the sugarcane industry. Although promising, some of the limitations for Australia is the bacteria's sensitivity to drought or acid soils; however, whilst their use may be excluded in some areas, the ANU opined that 'they can be used in most part of Australia, and the Australian industry is producing new strains continuously'.57
The cost for applying this nitrogen-fixing bacteria is estimated to be $5 per hectare, with an increased yield of up to $900 a hectare. Australian farmers are estimated to save $4 billion per year in nitrogen fertiliser with the use of this technique.58 The ANU added that the present use of nitrogen by the industry is likely to hinder the success of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria:
…likely reason for the lack of success in using associative nitrogen fixing bacteria in Australia is that their effectiveness is not as reliable as the use of nitrogen fertiliser. Because of the relatively affordable cost of nitrogen fertiliser in Australia, and because of the more predictable success of using fertiliser compared to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, farmers likely are using fertiliser at levels that would inhibit the activity of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In fact, nitrogen fertiliser use in the sugarcane industry in Australia is recommended at 140-200 kg N / ha (e.g. Bell, 2014). Estimations in Brazil have concluded that nitrogen addition to sugarcane fields at approximately 30-60 kg/ha for the first crop and 80-140 for ratoon crop subsequently (Martins et al. 2020) are conducive to successful use of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.59
The committee asked the ANU about the impact of existing funding mechanisms in place for Australian scientists. In response, the ANU called for consideration of a Max Planck model that provided ongoing funding to an institution with 'a certain critical mass and esteem', rather than having those institutions subject to cyclical funding agreements. The ANU also advocated for a funding mechanism that rewards public-benefit research and for government—industry partnerships.60
Another concern expressed about existing funding arrangements is the short time frames applied to funding agreements. The ANU subsequently called for long-term investment. Without adequate funds, research into the Reef is undermined by absence of job-security and Australia losing highly qualified marine scientists. Inadequate funding for the marine science field is also impacting on infrastructure support for marine science research.61
A key challenge faced by the scientific community in the month and potentially years ahead, is navigating the financial impact of COVID-19. For the university sector, the overall loss is estimated to be between $3.3 and $3.5 billion lost to research with the loss of up to 7,000 researchers in the university sector alone. The extent of this loss will occur within a six-month period, with further losses to Australia's research community thereafter.62

Committee view

A common theme shared by all stakeholders during this inquiry is the importance and value of cooperation between scientists, farmers and governments. When these partnerships are in place, farmers benefit from science through improved productivity and profitability. Governments play a crucial role in being a conduit between these two groups, and provide the necessary financial incentives to facilitate new ideas, research and technologies.
Although it is apparent that the trust between stakeholders has been eroded, the committee is of the view that there is an opportunity for renewed collaboration around innovative partnerships and programs.
The committee is supportive of the suggestion for the use of forums, as a means to bring scientists, farmers, natural resource management bodies and governments together. In the case of water quality measures, an opportunity exists for these stakeholders to come together as part of a forum with an upcoming review of the Reef 2050 Plan and future iterations of the Scientific Consensus Statement. These gatherings provide all parties with an opportunity to express their concerns, consider collaborative opportunities and to find common ground on pathways forward.

Recommendation 7

The committee recommends the Australian and Queensland governments, in partnership with Reef science research bodies, agricultural representatives, natural resource management bodies and other stakeholders, establish a Great Barrier Reef water quality forum.
Finally, the committee is encouraged by the various collaborative projects referenced throughout this inquiry, especially those projects with an emphasis on citizen science. Of the projects referenced, the committee is very supportive of MIPs and Project 25. The key to the success of these projects is the inclusion of farmers in their design and water quality sampling, such as Project 25's use of technology to promote real-time monitoring of water quality by farmers. The committee congratulates and commends those farmers and other research institutes, such as the RRRC, for their innovation and hard work. Based on the success of these programs, the committee recommends the Australian and Queensland governments explore future opportunities to establish water quality research projects that incorporate citizen science principles throughout the Reef's catchment regions. However, the committee recognises that there is no substitute for strong scientific research that underpins the scientist consensus on the Reef.

Recommendation 8

The committee recommends the Australian and Queensland governments explore future opportunities to establish water quality research projects that incorporate citizen science principles throughout the Great Barrier Reef's catchment regions.
The committee also emphasises the importance of research and development (R&D) within both the agricultural and science sectors. Opportunities exist for further development for water purification, remote sensing, artificial intelligence and satellite technologies to support input efficiencies, nutrient uptake of plants and optimising photosynthesis. The committee is particularly interested in the use of nitrogen-fixing bacteria by the sugarcane industry to reduce nitrogen use and improved profitability.
Although opportunities exist for the expansion of technologies applied to the agricultural sector operating within the Reef's catchment regions, it is reliant upon the necessary investment by governments into research institutions spearheading R&D innovation.

  • 1
    Ms Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 35.
  • 2
    Dr Pedro Fidelman, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 25.
  • 3
    Mr Kevin Borg, Canegrowers Mackay, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 36.
  • 4
    Mr Michael Guerin, AgForce Queensland Farmers, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 33.
  • 5
    Mr Michael Pisano, Canegrowers Herbert River, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 8.
  • 6
    Dr Paul Hardisty, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 4.
  • 7
    Dr Paul Hardisty, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 5.
  • 8
    Mr Aaron Davis. TropWATER James Cook University, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, pp. 5–6.
  • 9
    Mr Aaron Davis. TropWATER James Cook University, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 5.
  • 10
    Mr Aaron Davis. TropWATER James Cook University, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 6.
  • 11
    Professor Andrew Brooks, Griffith University, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 27.
  • 12
    Dr Peter Doherty and Dr Roger Shaw, Independent Science Panel, Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 80.
  • 13
    Dr Bruce Taylor, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, pp. 60–61.
  • 14
    Professor Barry Pogson, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 23.
  • 15
    Dr Natalie Jones, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, pp. 26–27.
  • 16
    Dr Natalie Jones, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, pp. 26–27.
  • 17
    Mr Paul Schembri, Canegrowers, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 26.
  • 18
    Dr Jennie Mallela, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 20.
  • 19
    Dr Jennie Mallela, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 20.
  • 20
    Misha Schubert, Science and Technology Australia, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 36.
  • 21
    Australian Academy of Science, Submission 31, p. 2.
  • 22
    Ms Anne-Marie Arabia, The Australian Academy of Science, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 36.
  • 23
    Dr John Steele, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 62.
  • 24
    Dr John Steele, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 62.
  • 25
    Dr John Steele, CSIRO, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 62.
  • 26
    Dr Peter Doherty, Independent Science Panel, Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 81.
  • 27
    Dr Roger Shaw, Independent Science Panel, Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 81.
  • 28
    A full list of Commonwealth supported projects was provided by the Department of Environment and Energy, Submission 8 – Attachment D, pp. 28–33, with links to video recordings of project participants and case studies found in Attachment E, pp. 34–36.
    Additional collaborative projects include: a Bundaberg region integrated farm management system program (2005), the Eye on the Reef application that enables the public to upload information about observations, citizen diving groups and Reef guardian schools. Mr Dale Holliss, Canegrowers Bundaberg, answers to questions on notice, 28 July 2020 (received 11 August 2020).
    A case study referenced by the Queensland Government called the Burdekin Nitrogen Trials project (PR20) found the 6ES method (Stage 1 of minimum standard) was more profitable for the farmer 100 per cent of the time, and in some cases, farmers gained up to $50,000 in profitability as a result of applying best practice. Variation in fields were found to be primarily due to soil types and farm management system, rather than nitrogen and demonstrated 'high nitrogen application rates do not compensate for poor farm management practices — good farm management is a key component for achieving high yields'. See, Queensland Government, Broadening and enhancing reef protection regulations: Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement, September 2017, p. 28.
  • 29
    Mr Robert Speed, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 70.
  • 30
    Department of Environment and Science, Submission 8, p. 12.
  • 31
    National Landcare Program, The Australian Government Reef Programme, available at: (accessed 13 August 2020).
  • 32
    The Reef Alliance Growing a Great Barrier Reef project engages 582 sugarcane, 194 grazing, 72 grain enterprises and 71 farmers in the horticulture sector to manage and improve practices across 596,000 hectares. See, Department of Environment and Science, Submission 8, p. 11.
  • 33
    The MSF Sugar Project assisted 36 farming groups to transition to a more efficient farming systems in the sugar industry. See, Department of Environment and Science, Submission 8, p. 11.
  • 34
    In total, 660 canegrowers were reached through Project Cane Changer, with 246 of those growers committing to positive practice change. See, Dr Geoff Garrett, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 9.
  • 35
    The Erosion and Streambank Erosion Control Program is a $36.5 million project that provides landholders with funds to undertake on-farm erosion control work, including remediating gullies and increasing riparian habitat protection. The work completed in September 2019, and is estimated to have prevented a total of 14,600 tonnes of sediment entering the Reef each year. See, Department of Environment and Science, Submission 8, p. 12.
  • 36
    National Environmental Science Program projects were referenced by Griffith University, and are the cornerstone for its stakeholder engagement. These projects engage farmers for the life of the project to integrate scientific practices within communities. See, Professor David Hamilton and Professor Michele Burford, Griffith University, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 27.
  • 37
    Dr Geoff Garrett, Queensland Reef Water Quality Program, 3 April 2019 (tabled 28 August 2020).
  • 38
    Also see Dr Roger Shaw and Dr Peter Doherty, Independent Science Panel, Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 79.
  • 39
    Queensland Government, Major integrated projects in Wet Tropics and Burdekin, available at: (accessed 13 August 2020).
  • 40
    Mr Stephen Lowe, Australian Banana Growers' Council, Committee Hansard, 27 July 2020, p. 31.
  • 41
    Mr Joseph Marano, Canegrowers Innisfail, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 37.
  • 42
    Ms Elisa Nichols, Department of Environment and Science, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 57.
  • 43
    For further information see, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Submission 9.
  • 44
    Ms Sheriden Morris, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, pp. 17–19.
  • 45
    Ms Sheridon Morris, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 17.
  • 46
    Ms Elisa Nichols, Department of Environment and Science, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 57.
  • 47
    Ms Sheridon Morris, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 22.
  • 48
    Mr Stephen Calcagno, Canegrowers Cairns Region, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 2.
  • 49
    Mr Stephen Calcagno, Canegrowers Cairns Region, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2020, p. 6.
  • 50
    The Australian Research Council (ARC) detailed Commonwealth investment into research and development, through its $770 million investment into research funding as part of the National Competative Grants Program (NCGP). The ARC's submission details investments made for projects relating to the Reef, under the NCGP, the Discovery Program and the Linkage Program. See, Australian Research Council, Submission 58.
  • 51
    Dr Geoff Garrett, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 9.
  • 52
    Mr Stephen Titze, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp. 14–15, 17.
  • 53
    Mr Stephen Titze, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp. 13, 17.
  • 54
    Mr Stephen Titze, Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp. 14–15.
  • 55
    Professor Barry Pogson, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp.  18, 20. Also see, Australian National University, Submission 120; Australian National University, answers to questions on notice, 28 August 2020 (received 16 September 2020).
  • 56
    In Brazil, farmers use nitrogen-fixing bacteria in conjunction with legumes and sugarcane production. In the soy-bean industry, nitrogen use has been fully replaced by nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
    "Only certain bacteria can convert atmospheric nitrogen into a soluble form (ammonia), which is then taken up by plants. This process is called biological nitrogen fixation. Some of these bacteria are free-living in the soil, some live in association with plants. Agronomically the most important group of nitrogen-fixing bacteria are rhizobia, which form a symbiosis with legumes, such as peas and chickpea. Rhizobia inocula (preparations of bacteria to be applied to seeds or the field) are routinely used in agriculture to improve legume nitrogen nutrition and reduce fertiliser application and Australia has a very successful practice in inoculation of legumes". See, Australian National University, answers to questions on notice, 28 August 2020 (received 16 September 2020), p. 4.
  • 57
    Dr Ulrike Mathesius, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp. 22–23.
  • 58
    Dr Ulrike Mathesius, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, pp. 22–23.
  • 59
    Australian National University, answers to questions on notice, 28 August 2020 (received 16 September 2020), pp. 6–7.
  • 60
    Professor Barry Pogson, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 24.
  • 61
    Dr Jennie Mallela, Australian National University, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 25.
  • 62
    Ms Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia and Ms Anna-Maria Arabia, Australian Academy of Science, Committee Hansard, 28 August 2020, p. 41.

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