Macadamia growers in Great Barrier Reef catchments continue to work with Growcom to achieve their Hort360 Reef Certification, making significant progress in contributing to Reef water quality improvements.

To date, 21 macadamia growers have undertaken the Reef Certification module representing 24 properties and covering approximately 1000 hectares. Of those 21 growers, four have achieved Certification with many more on the path to certification.

Bundaberg local farming families, the Attards and the Zunkers recently came on board becoming the first growers in the Burnett Mary region to be Reef Certified. Combined, they have 108 hectares of macadamia orchards Reef Certified.

When asked about their motivation for becoming Reef Certified, Annie Attard of Attard Family Farms explained that this was an opportunity to put pen to paper to capture where their management practices were at.

“We’re a stone’s throw from the Great Barrier Reef lagoon and have no hesitation in participating in a program like this to demonstrate confidence in our management practices,” Annie said.

“We have beautiful grassy inter-rows, tail-water dams to capture any runoff, fertigation for precision nutrient application, and soil moisture probes for irrigation scheduling.”

Emily Zunker from Windhum Farms took on the responsibility of getting their macadamia and sweetpotato farms Reef Certified. Emily found that the certification process undertaken with a Growcom Hort360 Facilitator was straightforward and a great opportunity to tighten up their record keeping processes. 

When asked about the changes adopted because of the Reef Certification process, Emily explained that they’ve only had to make some minor tweaks to their existing management practices.

“I’ve migrated the paper-based system online and incorporated the additional records required to be Reef Certified which is calibration of fertiliser equipment and weather data,” she said. 

Reef Certification is a voluntary and credible pathway for the horticulture industry to demonstrate to government it is meeting best practice standards, potentially avoiding the need for regulated minimum standards in horticulture under the Queensland Government’s Reef Regulations. 

Growcom’s Hort360 GBR is funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and is a free program for all commercial horticulture growers.

The process involves benchmarking farm management practices, working through the certification requirements with a facilitator, and then an independent third-party audit.

The audit is only required to be undertaken every three years, and currently the cost of an audit is funded through Growcom’s Hort360 GBR program.  

Reef Certification focuses on water quality outcomes with a strong alignment to existing food safety quality assurance and environmental systems, such as Freshcare Environmental. In fact, any growers who are Freshcare Environmental accredited can become Reef Certified without an audit.

Within the certification there are four key management practice areas – nutrient, sediment, pesticide, and water. Practices of focus include soil and leaf testing practices, nutrient budgeting, decision making tools for irrigation, calibration records and management of topsoil. 

Technical Advisor for the Australian Macadamia Society (AMS), Chris Searle, encourages macadamia growers to look into Hort360 Reef Certification. 

“Macadamia growers have a strong commitment to limiting their impact on the environment. The AMS has been working closely with Growcom on Reef Certification as it can assist growers understand their business and the standard of land management practices required to ensure no detriment to the Reef from our industry,” Chris said.

Orchard General Manager for Macadamias Australia John Vaughan recently went through the process of becoming Reef Certified. Like the Attards and Zunkers, their operations are also based in the Burnett catchment.

Macadamias Australia decided to certify all seven macadamia farms with a combined area of 720 hectares, as well as their lemon orchard. 

John shares Chris Searle’s sentiments about environmental stewardship.

“We found the Hort360 process relatively easy to comply with and it fits well with our company values which influence the way we farm with the goal of leaving the environment in a better condition than when we started,” John said.

Growcom Hort360 Facilitator Michelle Haase is delighted with the number of growers coming on board for Reef Certification.

“Once we go through the questions of the Reef module in Hort360, the majority of growers see that they are already operating at or above best practice. If not, then we work out an action plan to assist that grower in lifting those practices so they can become Reef Certified,” she said.

“We are confident that with continued efforts by growers to aim for best management practices, our industry will be in a position to meet Reef Certification standards to demonstrate stewardship towards the Reef.”   

Any grower interested in receiving more information on Reef Certification is encouraged to contact Growcom Hort360 Manager Scott Wallace on 0408 135 002.

ABOUT THE REGULATIONS

Reef protection regulations are already in place in Queensland to address land-based sources of water pollution flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.

The regulations were introduced in December 2019 and are being implemented in different regions at different stages based on improved water quality management priorities. 

The regulations require primary producers of sugarcane, grazing and bananas to comply with industry specific minimum practice standards.

Minimum standards for the horticulture industry have not yet been developed and are not proposed to come into effect until 1 December 2022.

Growcom and other industry stakeholders are working in consultation with the Queensland Government to support grower uptake of Reef Certification in an effort to demonstrate that the introduction of regulatory minimum practice standards for horticulture is not required. For more information contact 13 74 68 or visit: www.qld.gov.au/environment/agriculture/sustainable-farming/reef/reef-regulations/about/overview