Let's Change The Way We Talk About Cane

This article was originally published in the Cassowary Coast Independent on 20 July 2017.

Communication is key in so many aspects of life. The way we communicate to each other and about each other can have far reaching consequences. It can impact the relationships that we build, determine the success or failure of a project and it could even drive the change needed to impact the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

How? Let me explain.

Years of research in behavioural psychology suggest that if you are trying to create change, how you communicate is vital in encouraging positive choices and driving behavioural change. Being rewarded for a positive action is far more motivating than punished for a negative one.

In the context of the Great Barrier Reef the Queensland Cane Industry has been under constant scrutiny around its impact on water quality. Over the years, the industry has faced increased regulations and extreme pressure on growers to change their farming practices.

In 2015 the annual Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Report Card was released. The Report Card gives an indication of how cane farmers, graziers, banana farmers and other industries are progressing towards the water quality targets set out in the Reef 2050 Plan.     

The report summarised that the cane industry was rated a “D”.

The report made it clear that the cane industry was making slow progress towards improving water quality. The response from the cane industry was mixed—some would say negative.


This is an industry that cares about the Reef and is keen to see it survive into the future.

Speaking to growers, you find that over the years many farming practices have changed. Many growers now cut their cane green and spread the trash cuttings over the paddock. Known as blanketing, this protects the soil, prevents erosion, conserves moisture and reduces weed pressure which in turn contributes to a reduction in nitrogen use.

Growers follow SIX EASY STEPS, the industry recommended nutrient management program. Many growers have also made considerable changes to their farm’s layout to improve drainage, minimise erosion and run-off, often at substantial cost to their businesses.

Despite these changes growers are being told they are not doing enough and contributing to the degradation of Australia’s Great Natural Wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.

Psychological studies have shown that negative messaging can be overwhelming and dispiriting, leading to a sense of a lack of control.

If you are a grower told time and time again that despite your best efforts your farming practices are linked to failing reef health, you would not be faulted for wondering whether changing your behaviour can actually positively impact the reef.

To combat this and increase recognition for the cane industry, the organisation CANEGROWERS, together with the Queensland Government, have funded Cane Changer. Cane Changer is an initiative that works with growers and other industry groups to build better recognition of growers, capture and communicate the grower story.

Cane Changer believes that if we can better understand growers, and work out how to acknowledge them for the positive changes they have already made, we might be more likely to see more growers involved in change and want to continue to adopt new ideas into the future.

Project Cane Changer has been rolling out in Innisfail and Tully over the last few months with over 380 people engaged in the project and 109 growers signed up. To find out more about the project or get in contact with us head to canechanger.com or speak to your local Smartcane BMP facilitator.