A Change for the Better

This Article was Originally Published in the Cassowary Coast Independent News on September 14, 2017

A recent Cane Changer meeting held at Dick Camilleri's farm

A recent Cane Changer meeting held at Dick Camilleri's farm

A lot has changed since Dick Camilleri started cane farming in El Arish in 1955. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the industry’s commitment to innovation. Throughout Dick’s life, he has seen the sugarcane industry in his community embrace a range of new technologies, innovations and sustainable cane growing practices.

“We were planting cane by hand and farming using horses when I first started,” he said. “Now we are using tractors that have GPS and can pretty much drive themselves.” 

It was for this reason that Dick saw value in the Cane Changer project, an initiative that seeks to highlight the ongoing positive change and evolution of the industry.

 “It is important to acknowledge what the sugarcane industry has achieved,” he said. “We have come a long, long way since I first started farming.”

The cane industry is constantly changing, Dick says, and farmers are continually trailing new practices and searching out the latest innovations.

“Over the years I have been involved, in a number of different trials on my farm working with Sugar Research Australia and many other agencies,” he said. “All farmers have. We have gone from narrow to wide row spacing widths, we’ve introduced less cultivation, and we no longer burn our cane.”

Spend any time talking to Dick and you quickly come to realise the passion and commitment he has for the industry and its future. He is heavily involved in many aspects of the industry and serves as Deputy Chairman of Tully Sugar Limited.

The sugar industry has faced many challenges over the years, especially with the concerns around water quality and run-off into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

There is pressure on the industry to respond and to do so quickly and emphatically.

The Smartcane BMP accreditation program was developed by the sugarcane industry and endorsed by the Queensland Government to ensure farming practices were sustainable, leading to better health for the Reef while maintaining productivity and profitability on the farm.

Smartcane BMP can be a challenging process for some growers, especially if they’re not used to keeping records.  

“I’ve been farming for 63 years, back when we first started using chemicals no one knew the impact that they could have, you just used them according to the directions on the label,” Dick said. "We stopped using all those nasty chemicals as soon as we realised the problem - the Great Barrier Reef is just off our coast and we don’t want to kill the reef.”

Dick believes that it is important that all growers in the industry play their part.

“There are not enough of us doing BMP,” he said. “Nowadays, everyone understands what they are doing and over the years farmers have been making changes to improve their practices. Now it is the record keeping component that we have to improve.”

Smartcane BMP facilitators are vital to improving involvement in the region he said.

“Our local BMP facilitator, Nick Stipis is very thorough and helps make the process of recording what happens a lot easier,” Dick said. “Farming can be a hard process, we work very long days and people like Nick improve the process. For example, we now save time by using a legend to code fertiliser and herbicide usage on our farm.” 

Dick acknowledges that the industry needs to continue to evolve in the face of new challenges and he’s excited by how the industry can innovate for a better future.

If you would like to find out more about Smartcane BMP or Project Cane Changer, head to www.canechanger.com or speak to your local Smartcane BMP facilitator.