Project Cane Changer: Mid-Year Update

This article was originally published in the CANEGROWERS Magazine

Project Cane Changer is a CANEGROWERS initiative that has been working in the Wet Tropics for the past two years. Since officially launching in February 2017, more than 260 Wet Tropics growers have signed up to the project to tell their story and ‘Set the Record Straight.’ 

With recent funding obtained through the Reef Trust Partnership and Great Barrier Reef Foundation, that momentum is set to continue.

The new round of funding will see Cane Changer continue in the Wet Tropics while expanding into the Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday and Southern regions.

The year started strong for the project with former Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price MP, visiting CANEGROWERS Chairman, Paul Schembri’s farm in March to announce funding for the project and learn more about the work growers are doing to improve productivity while protecting the environment.

“Project Cane Changer is about reinforcing positive farming practices and it links into the industry’s Smartcane BMP, best management practice, program which is being recognised globally as a guarantee of sustainability,” said Mr Schembri in the recent CANEGROWERS Media Release about the announcement.

“I look forward to Cane Changer expanding in the future and thank the Australian Government and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for seeing its potential,” Mr Schembri said.

What’s been happening recently?

Since the latest phase began in April, well over 150 growers and industry stakeholders have been engaged in the project.

In the Wet Tropics, the project has rolled out a series of record-keeping workshops in the Cairns, Tully and Herbert River districts for growers and their families who are interested in aligning their records with Smartcane BMP.

“Growers have been doing some fantastic work with record-keeping and what these sessions revealed was that many are already keeping records in-line with the program’s requirements,” said Cairns Region Smartcane BMP Facilitator, Kasey Shaw.

“What we are trying to do with these sessions is to streamline the process of keeping records and make it as easy as possible to work the practice into your routine.”

Cane Changer is also looking to boost the capacity of local leaders in the industry, setting sights on a series of ‘behavioural skills training sessions’ with CANEGROWERS boards and extension staff throughout the Wet Tropics.

“We’re always really impressed with the fantastic work that’s being done by industry leaders,” said Cane Changer Project Manager, Toneya McIntosh. “These sessions are designed to provide additional tools and strategies that can be used locally to further support growers in their area.” 

Further south, Cane Changer has also commenced the process of designing and tailoring the project to the Mackay-Whitsunday and Burdekin regions – meeting with more than 60 growers and industry stakeholders since April.

This process has seen the project partner with the CANEGROWERS Mackay, Proserpine and Burdekin Boards who will lead the design and establishment of the project in their local region.

“Cane Changer is driven by the local CANEGROWERS offices in each district,” said Cane Changer Project Leader, Dr John Pickering.  

“We know that every district is different and has its own set of success stories and challenges,” said Dr Pickering. “That’s why we’ll be working with the local boards in each district to co-design and tailor the project for their local region over the coming months.”

On-farm in Plane Creek as part of Cane Changer’s co-design process.

On-farm in Plane Creek as part of Cane Changer’s co-design process.

In another effort to tell the grower story and set the record straight, Cane Changer has launched a monthly Cane Changer Community Newsletter.

“In this newsletter, we’ll be discussing some of the project’s work in the Wet Tropics, featuring the industry’s champions of change, and keeping everyone updated on Cane Changer’s establishment in the Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday, and Southern Regions,” said Ms McIntosh.

You can find a link to the Cane Changer Community Newsletter at:

What’s next?

For the remainder of the year, Cane Changer will continue to roll-out workshops and training activities throughout the Wet Tropics. The project will place a strong focus on enhancing the role of extension staff, women and families, and young leaders in the industry.

Moving forwards, Cane Change will also continue to tell the grower story and share the many stories of positive change taking place throughout the Wet Tropics sugarcane industry.

Further south, the Cane Changer team will continue to meet with members of the Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday and Southern regions to co-design the project for their district with workshops and project activities to be implemented from next year.

If you’re interested in finding out more about upcoming workshops in your area or when Cane Changer is likely to be established in your region, you can speak to your local CANEGROWERS office or can visit

Behaviour Innovation