Agricultural groups are under fire for not providing enough information to the State Government so it can to properly assess how farming practices are affecting water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

This week the Queensland’s auditor-general released his latest report on how well Queensland is meeting water quality targets in reef catchments.

It found the Government was doing a better job at coordinating its approach, but that progress was slow and targets under the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan were unlikely to be met.

The auditor-general’s report says targets set in the Reef 2050 plan won’t be met if progress continues as it has.

Low BMP uptake

Among the issues it reported was a low take-up of Best Management Practice programs (BMP) in agricultural industries, which included standards for reducing chemical use and sediment run-off.

Just 2 per cent of graziers and 7 per cent of cane growers are accredited under the voluntary BMP programs, which equates to 87 graziers and 256 cane farmers.

The report states accelerated uptake was needed to meet the target of 90 per cent of sugar cane, horticulture, cropping and grazing lands in priority areas being managed under BMP systems.

However, lobby groups have defended the slow adoption, insisting the process was onerous, costly for primary producers and was not driven by market forces.

The CEO of Canegrowers, Dan Galligan, said the statistics in the report failed to recognise growers who were working towards accreditation.

“Seventy per cent of the cane area in Queensland has been benchmarked against our BMP program and 17 per cent of that area is actually accredited,” he said.

“In the Wet Tropics, which is a high priority area, 80 per cent of land is benchmarked and 31 per cent is accredited.

The low take-up has also been blamed on a hangover from the previous environmental risk management plans that were imposed on farmers in 2009.

Lisa Hutchinson from natural resource management group NQ Dry Tropics said the regulations created a resentment and distrust of the voluntary program when it was first introduced.

“There was a lot of resistance initially to the concept of the grazing BMP program,” she said.

“But as more and more people have become involved in the program we have seen a flow-on effect, so there’s just been a gradual acceptance over time.

“We don’t have 90 per cent accredited, but we do have a lot of the producers who have gone through the self-assessment, which is definitely a step in the right direction.”

BMP participation likely to be made mandatory

The auditor-general’s report indicates involvement in BMP programs could soon be made mandatory.

“The proposals underway to broaden and enhance existing reef protection regulations will go some way to achieving the right balance between industry-led voluntary approaches and regulatory enforcement,” the auditor-general said.