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Land use conversion to improve water quality in high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane areas of the Great Barrier Reef catchments

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Waltham, N. J., Wegscheidl, C., Volders, A., Smart, J. C. R., Hasan, S., Lédée, E. and Waterhouse, J. (2021) Land use conversion to improve water quality in high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane areas of the Great Barrier Reef catchments. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 167 . p. 112373. ISSN 0025-326X

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Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2021.112373

Publisher URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X21004070


Eutrophication of coastal and nearshore receiving environments downstream of intensive agricultural production areas is a global issue. The Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (2017–2022) sets ambitious targets for reducing pollutant loads entering the Great Barrier Reef from contributing agricultural catchments. At a regional scale, the Wet Tropics end-of-catchment target load reduction for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) is 60% from the 2012–2013 anthropogenic load level. However, not even with the combined efforts of the Reef Regulations (December 2019) mandate and adoption of best practice nutrient management on farm, is it likely that these DIN targets will be reached. Thus, there is a need for innovative and cost-effective approaches to deliver further water quality improvement. Transitioning low-lying, marginal sugarcane land to alternative land uses that require lower or no nitrogen inputs, but still provide farmers with income streams, is a potentially attractive solution. In this study, a multi-criteria analysis was conducted to identify sites suitable for such alternative land uses. The cost-effectiveness of DIN reductions from these land use changes were calculated, accounting for reductions in annuity gross margins and land conversion cost. In certain locations (where conversion costs are low and DIN reductions are high) treatment wetlands and no-input cattle grazing offer cost-effective DIN reduction in the range of 20–26$/kg DIN. This compares favourably with existing agricultural extension-based approaches (c. $50/kg DIN reduction). Ecosystem service wetlands (i.e., wetland restoration for fish production) – again when appropriately situated – offer the prospect of even more cost-effective performance (11–14 $/kg DIN reduction). These results, in conjunction with best management practices, support the premise that alternative land uses are cost-effective options for improving water quality in certain areas of low-lying, low productivity sugarcane land. On-going investments by government in addition to private market funding mechanisms could be appropriate for supporting such land use transitions. These approaches need to be tested and refined via targeted pilot projects, as part of a whole-of-landscape approach to achieve broader reef water quality targets.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Agriculture
Keywords:Constructed wetlands Ecosystem services Land transition Nutrients Water quality
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Special aspects of agriculture as a whole > Sustainable agriculture
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agriculture and the environment
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soils. Soil science > Soil chemistry
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Methods and systems of culture. Cropping systems
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Improvement, reclamation, fertilisation, irrigation etc., of lands (Melioration)
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Conservation of natural resources
Plant culture > Field crops > Sugar plants
Live Archive:31 May 2021 06:35
Last Modified:03 Sep 2021 16:46

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