Ten Months of Project Cane Changer

Minister for the Great Barrier Reef, Minister Miles, signs his own Cane Changer Commitment. 

Minister for the Great Barrier Reef, Minister Miles, signs his own Cane Changer Commitment. 


This article was originally published in the CANEGROWERS Magazine on 18 December 2017.


It has now been 10 months since Project Cane Changer launched in the Wet Tropics.

The very first Cane Changer Commitments were signed on February 23rd by the Innisfail CANEGROWERS board and Chairman Joseph Marano. Since then, the project has seen over 170 growers come on board and sign up to ‘set the record straight’ about the sugarcane industry.

Cane Changer is designed to tell the grower story and recognise growers for their past innovations and ongoing efforts to protect the environment. The project also aims to pave the way for continued innovation and sustainable change into the future.

The offices and boards of CANEGROWERS across the Wet Tropics have been working tirelessly to help lead and implement the project in their districts. With their help, Cane Changer has now been launched in all 6 districts, with the Tablelands lighting their torch at the AGM on December 12.

Growers participating in data collection with the Project Cane Changer team.

Growers participating in data collection with the Project Cane Changer team.

2017 Highlights

A highlight of the project was Minister for the Environment Steven Miles signing a Cane Changer Commitment in July, joining growers in their commitment to the industry and the environment. His commitment also recognised their ongoing efforts in challenges facing the industry including the Great Barrier Reef.

At the signing, CANEGROWERS Innisfail Chair Joseph Marano said that “having the Minister formally recognise growers for just how far they have come is a significant moment for the industry.”

Since July, growers across the state have continued to be positively recognised for their efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

In a recent media statement, Mr Miles said the Report Card, which covers activity up to June 2016, showed particular improvement in reducing nitrogen runoff.

“Thanks to lots of hard work on the ground, we’ve finally got pollution falling,” Mr Miles said.

“We’ve been working with cane growers so that they are part of the solution for water quality while also getting great results for their farms.

“And it’s working—farmers have made the most effective land management practice changes to date.”

Dr John Pickering, Cane Changer project leader, believes this is a great result. “We are really pleased to see growers recognised for their positive changes,” he said.

In addition to working to improve the positive recognition for growers. Cane Changer has been working with Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP) Extension Staff and Smartcane BMP facilitators to streamline the data collection process for growers.

At recent events in Mossman, Tully and Cairns, Cane Changer, Smartcane BMP facilitators and the WTSIP team ran interactive workshops utilising innovative technology to gather data about farming practices. Growers were able to get real-time feedback about how their on-farm practices compared with other growers in the district, and discuss the short-term and long-term financial and environmental implications. This data can also be used for reporting in a number of different programs such as Smartcane BMP and Paddock2Reef, and for many growers, these events were an in-road for such programs, providing them an opportunity to learn and join on to other projects that benefit them and their farms.

“Growers are regularly asked to report this information about their farming practices across a number of different programs running in the industry,” Dr Pickering said, “by combining and linking a number of these questions from programs we hope to make it easier for growers to provide an accurate picture of their practices and set the record straight for reporting on the district’s impact on water quality.”

In August, with the support of the CANEGROWERS Cairns Region office, two workshops were conducted with over 30 growers in attendance and harvest season in full swing. These workshops were initial trials of the Family, Farm & Future strategy that aims to build on the important role that family has in the sugarcane industry.

As part of the program, participants had the opportunity to provide feedback on issues that they have found working on farms over the years. Jinny Hong helped facilitate the workshops and said “Growers told us that some of the major barriers over the years have been a lack of access to the right resources.”

“Record keeping can be time-consuming and a lot of growers don’t have access to computers at home.”

“By engaging family members in the process, many who are already involved in on-farm practices and decisions, we hope to overcome some of these barriers.”

So, where to next?

As Cane Changer moves into 2018 you can expect to see the further roll out of the project into the Wet Tropics. In the coming months Cane Changer will be bringing the Family, Farm, Future workshops to other districts. These will be co-designed with local CANEGROWERS offices and the wider community to ensure they are district specific.

We are also looking to rollout the data collection workshops that has been designed as part of Cane Changer. Initial testing in Mossman was well received with positive feedback and many growers calling on the wider district to participate to create a clearer picture of the industry.

A Final Note

As a final note, the team at Project Cane Changer would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to get involved in the project. We have met many wonderful growers this year and been welcomed onto farms and into homes. We are extremely grateful for the support from all the CANEGROWERS offices and staff who have championed the project and spent their time developing and implementing the project in their districts.

To those of you we have not met we are looking forward to 2018 and having the chance to meet you with you all and continue to help ‘set the record straight’ about the sugarcane industry and the great work that it does.

The Cane Changer team wishes all growers a wonderful Christmas and a safe and happy holiday period.