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Incredible farmers: Reef Champion Awards finalists announced

A CANE grower reducing nitrogen use, a grazier undertaking erosion repair work, a cross-industry practice change project, and trailblazing reef extension officers are among the finalists in the 2019 Reef Champion Awards.

The awards, run by the Reef Alliance with support from the Australian and Queensland governments, recognise the outstanding achievements of individuals and organizations working to improve the quality of water entering the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland Farmers' Federation CEO Travis Tobin said the finalists reflected the high caliber of the work being done by farmers and the agriculture community to safeguard the future of the Reef.

"The Reef Champion Awards recommend these important and innovative actions and improvements the farming community is making to the quality of the water leaving the farm and contributing to the health of the Reef," Mr Tobin said.

"The Awards provide industry and the broader community with the opportunity to celebrate farmers, extension officers and community members who are working to improve land management practices and Reef water quality by reducing run-off and erosion."

The finalists in the 2019 Reef Champion Awards are:

Prince of Wales Environmental Leadership – Reef Sustainability Award:

Joseph Marano is a third-generation sugarcane grower from Mourilyan.

He and his family farm 417 hectares and have been implementing the best management practices on their cane farms since the late 1970s.

As an industry leader in his region, his actions have contributed to a greater awareness of both farmers and the cane industry.

He has been accredited under the Smart Best Management Practice, involved in numerous Reef incentive programs to improve soil health and improve nitrogen use efficiency, reduce sediment losses and improve chemical applications.

Joseph makes use of a hooded sprayer to target the application of herbicides and reduce the risk of run-off, zonal tillage to prevent sediment loss and a mill ash spreader to improve soil health among other methods.

Beyond that, his work has contributed to better collaboration within the Wet Tropics region of Queensland, improved productivity, knowledge and learning for both Joseph and the industry. His efforts go well beyond his business.

With memberships of the Queensland Cane Growers Organization, CANEGROWERS Innisfail, the Wet Tropics Sugarcane Industry Partnership and the Cane Changer Project.

These actions have also supported better water quality outcomes for nutrients, sediment and pesticide pollutants that support the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Joe Marano.
media_cameraJoe Marano.

Lenny Parisi and his family have farmed sugarcane in the Mulgrave and Russell River catchments for three generations.

He has embraced the importance of being a good custodian of the land through holistic management including soil productivity, reducing farm run-off, erosion control, water quality and restoring of creek, river and wetland ecosystems. He leads by example as a Smartcane Best Management Practice accredited farm and through his active involvement in progressive farming initiatives.

Lenny has worked with Australia's Mulgrave Landcare and Greening to willingly handover seven hectares of marginal cane land to restore the wetland environment. This wetland reconstruction is the first in the Wet Tropics region and is a catalyst for new environmental projects planned for the lower catchment with neighboring farmers, inspired by Lenny's example, also embarking on revegetating riparian zones.

As a member of the Sugar Research Cane to Creek project, Lenny has made significant changes to his nutrient management program, improved his understanding of soil, water and nutrient interactions and better managed these risks reduce losses. He also takes any opportunity to share his experiences of retaining and restoring natural areas and adopting better farming practices with the cane industry and community.

Lenny Parisi.
media_cameraLenny Parisi.

Reef Nutrient Champion Award:

V. Rossi and Sons is a family sugarcane farming partnership made up of 92-year-old father Ricky and his five sons Peter, Mark, Steve, Chris and Tony located at Aloomba on the banks of the Mulgrave River.

Together they make and use compost on their farm to reduce their need for inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. After purchasing machinery to set up the system, they have reduced nitrogen application by 30 per cent and used multispecies fallow cropping to improve soil biology. Green Harvesting and Trash blanketing, subsurface fertiliser applications and improved pesticide regimes have also improved operations.

While a silt trap and the revegetation of their creek boundary drain with river cherry have maintained biodiversity and improved water quality.

V Rossi and Sons.
media_cameraV Rossi and Sons.

Graham Volck is always searching for better management practices to improve resource use efficiency and the sustainability of his irrigated cotton farming business near Emerald.

He offered his farm as a demonstration site for the cotton industry's reef water quality project aiming to improve water use efficiency, water quality, and nutrient use efficiency. After conducting soil tests, collecting water samples, installing moisture probes and analyzing the data, he removed one in-crop nitrogen fertiliser application.

The crop yielded 12 bales per hectare, and Graham saved between $ 68 to $ 80 / ha in nitrogen fertiliser compared to his previous management practices. Graham believes that more precise nitrogen fertiliser management practices will reduce lost nitrates from the field and improve water quality.

Graham Volck.
media_cameraGraham Volck.

Reef Sediment Champion Award:

Russell and Catriona Murdoch: An overarching goal to create an ecologically sustainable grazing operation, that values ​​natural capital as much as it does beef production, has led Russell and Catriona Murdoch to take a holistic approach to the development of their 1900 hectare Holouyd Booubyjan district property.

After purchasing the property three years ago, the Murdochs implemented a rotational grazing program to protect riparian areas, decrease erosion and reduce the direct impact of stock on natural waterways which led to an increase in ground cover of between 50 and 80 per cent across the property and a fourfold increase in Holroyd's carrying capacity.

Russell and Catriona Murdoch.
media_cameraRussell and Catriona Murdoch.

Kate and Peter Waddell: They’re 130km from the ocean but Woodleigh Cattle Station owners Kate and Peter Waddell are working hard to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Wanting to stop topsoil loss in heavy rain events, repairing extensive gullies and fixing eroding tailings, they began major projects including earthworks, fencing, revegetation, natural grazing practices and off-stream watering points.

They also work their cattle (900 heads) in a single herd moved through the paddocks, leading to better grazing of areas, which keeps weeds down, improves soil aeration, increases biodiversity from manure and carbon and water retention, resulting in improved grass growth and less erosion.

Reef Conservation Champion Award:

Neil Farmer: Lake Learmonth, owned by Neil Farmer, is a 2,675 hectare cattle property located approximately 45km north of Rockhampton sharing the frontage onto the Fitzroy River. He has engaged in extensive property planning to manage his grazing lands as ecological systems and preserve soil health to maximize business outcomes.

He has installed five new water troughs, 9.8 kms of electric fencing and 4kms of poly-pipe to protect riparian areas, promote vegetation regrowth and reduce sediment loss.

He now maintains 90-100 per cent ground cover while these changes have also assisted in creating a corridor which not only enhances wildlife movement but provides preferred nesting habitat for protected Fitzroy River Turtle and White-throated snapping turtle.

Neil Farmer.
media_cameraNeil Farmer.

Reef Extension Officer Champion Award:

Ellie Carter is highly regarded as a source of impartial and trusted advice on land management extensions in the Fitzroy region.

During her time at the Fitzroy Basin Association, Ellie has demonstrated a keen interest in agricultural innovations, a proven track record for sound technical advice, and above all, a continued dedication to investing in her skills and future to be of benefit to landholders and the industry.

Ellie regularly participates in the Fitzroy Regional Extension Network, sharing articles and resources to ensure she remains at the front of the agricultural industry while sharing her knowledge with students from the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges and The Cathedral College in Rockhampton.

Jayson Dowie has built and mentored a team of agronomists in Farmers in the Burdekin who values ​​his expertise and friendly approach.

He has partnered with local farmers to develop the RP161 project, an innovative working model that makes changing farming practices as easy as possible for growers.

Due to the large part to Jayson's dedication, RP161 has achieved a nitrogen reduction of nearly 200 tons, over 156 farms in its first three years and helping cane farmers to reduce harmful run-offs, improve their profitability without any loss to production, and their benefits farm for the long-term. RP161 has since expanded to the Mackay Whitsunday region with a 98-tonne reduction in its first year and to the Herbert catchment, and the Burnett Mary.

Jayson Dowie.
media_cameraJayson Dowie.

Reef Community Champion Award:

Jolly Rogers Fishing Club is a not-for-profit organization whose vision is 'to clear plastic and rubbish debris from our Great Barrier Reef, to sustain its pristine and vital ecosystems for future generations'. The group gathers weekly to remove pollutants from the Fitzroy River. In their mission, since mid-2018, the group has removed over 100 tons of debris from the largest river system draining into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. They have inspired the local community with their steadfast passion to make an impact on the local ecosystem and have since branched out to several different community outreach programs, including feeding the homeless and opening an op-shop. As a result, volunteer numbers are growing, and greater environmental outcomes are being achieved.

Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership: The Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership model is the first of its kind in Australia – with 17 partners from across the sugar industry, including mills, industry bodies, productivity services, sugar research, natural resource management and government agencies, working together for the benefit of sugarcane farmers and the reef. The Partnership has exceeded its targets and delivered an estimated 10 per cent reduction in dissolved inorganic nitrogen flowing off cane farms to the Great Barrier Reef. This significant outcome has been achieved by engaging with nearly 500 sugarcane growers, of which nearly 300 have made verified practice changes across more than 60,000 hectares.

Reef Youth Champion Award:

William Darveniza is a district extension officer for a community-designed reef water quality project aimed at reducing the number of agricultural pollutants flowing from water quality hotspots catchments, Innisfail and Tully.

He has successfully coupled local knowledge with an ever-increasing understanding of water quality concepts to play a pivotal role in project initiatives.

Critical to Will's role is the ability to communicate sensitive and complex data and using his aptitude for graphic design and has produced innovative extension resources such as N loss pathways board games, basin concept maps, site plans and other infographics which have been very successful with many growers.

He has also taken on a mentoring role and is sharing his very practical knowledge of sustainable farming in the Wet Tropics.

Will Darveniza.
media_cameraWill Darveniza.

The 2019 Reef Champion Award winners will be announced at an award dinner as part of the 2019 Reef Synthesis Workshop in Mackay on Tuesday, November 26, 2019.

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