Growers fear major change puts $90M industry at risk
AS A fifth generation cane farmer, Ashley Petersen's family has farmed the same stretch of land in Hervey Bay since 1876.
However, ahead of proposed State Government reforms Mr Petersen fears his livelihood has been set up to fail by "unachievable" legislation meant to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
With 37 years in the industry under his belt, Mr Petersen farms cane, soy beans, cattle and pineapple across about 30km of Nikenbah land.
"We think we have addressed our issues already. We did a major change in 2000 where we worked to control run-off. We had bus loads of people come from all over the state in the last 20 years to look at our innovative farming techniques and yet we are being told it is not enough," he said.
"These new reforms are just unreasonable and they set us up to fail. It is unachievable. Every time we think we are going all right they move the goal posts. And the people who are making these reforms don't know what they are talking about because they can't answer our questions about it."
Mr Petersen said he as all for protecting the environment as he relied on it for his livelihood.
However, he said the proposed legislation was taking things "a step too far".
"What will happen is it will ultimately put us out of business," he said.
"Part of the reforms would be I would need to pay a consultant $3000-$5000 for a nutrient management plan. So I'm not deemed educated enough after more than three decades to know what nutrients my land requires.
"How does blanket legislation make sense when areas up north get 4000mm of rain and we get 100mm?
"You can't just blame one sector of the community for all the problems."
The calls came as Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said the State Government needed to think about the livelihoods of regional Queenslanders.
"The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef is in fantastic condition and I'm sick of Labor talking the reef down," he said.
"It's a major tourist destination and we just don't need the negativity."
According to the Queensland Opposition, the Maryborough electorate's cane growing industry is worth $92 million and supports 441 jobs.
Yesterday LNP Shadow Minster for Agriculture Tony Perrett said alarm bells had been raised by the industry on the proposed new laws - especially their impact on the state's sugar and cane industry.
"The sugar industry is already doing it tough with low international prices for sugar, that's putting pressure on the viability of existing cane farms and mills," Mr Perrett said.
Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien accused the State Government of "declaring war on Queensland's farmers and primary producers".
The reef reforms are just another blow for the Maryborough Mill after concerns earlier this month road curfews along critical transport routes and new B-Double permit requirements threatened an already shortened crush season.
The curfews, which effectively ban night operations, mean farmers now have to wait to start harvesting of a morning and trucks can only operate for six hours out of 24.
The night operation curfew only applies on approved Sunshine Coast roads and only applies to B Double combinations.
The only Maryborough night curfew is on Lennox St, and the use of this route will be phased out by the end of 2020.
Cameron Waterson, Canegrowers Association district manager for Maryborough, said the impacts of the limited transports could be felt at the local mill.
"In a worst-case scenario, it would become unviable for growers from the Sunshine Coast to transport," he said.
"In turn, we lose about 48,000 tonnes of crush. That changes it from what's already not a good season to a poor one."
Sunshine Coast cane farmers contribute about eight per cent of all volume for the Maryborough Mill and are not viable without B Double access.
Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch said she had been travelling through regional Queensland and she had seen first-hand how hard some farmers had been working to reduce run-off and improve water quality.
"The proposed legislation includes industry's own accepted Best Management Practices," she said.
"Since 2012, the Queensland Government has provided the agricultural sector around $110 million to improve water quality and support productive and profitable industries.
"Of this, $55 million went to the cane sector.
"However, uptake has not been fast enough, and water quality is poor.
"Best management practices for farmers, more efficiency and more profitability, with the result being a far healthier reef.
"As part of the new legislation package we are also providing an extra $10 million directly to farmers to help with their costs sourcing agronomic advice to support their improved practice."