Great Barrier Reef to Benefit from MSF Sugar and Australian Government Partnership

05 March 2017



In an exciting opportunity for the sugarcane industry, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy, and Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, have announced funding of $4.5 million (GST exclusive) for the delivery of MSF Sugar’s Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative.

The initiative will be delivered over the next 5 years as part of the fifth investment phase of the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, which will be supplemented by an estimated $12.8 million co-investment by MSF Sugar and growers engaged to participate in the initiative.

The Reef Trust has a strong focus on partnerships and co-investment so that government can work together with industry and the community to maximise benefits for the Great Barrier Reef.

In announcing support for the MSF Sugar-led initiative, Minister Frydenberg and Senator Canavan indicated that “This is a new and innovative approach put forward by the sugarcane industry and we are very enthusiastic about its potential application across coastal sugar farming in Reef catchments”.

This view is supported by MSF Sugar CEO, Mike Barry, who said the partnership is significant as “The Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative represents a new and unique approach to engaging with cane farmers to improve on-farm practices”.

“It is unique as the project is an industry-led initiative being driven as a partnership between MSF Sugar, Sugar Research Australia (SRA) and the sugarcane industry, who together aim to improve on-farm nutrient management practices and therefore improve the quality of water entering the Reef lagoon”.

Over the next 5 years, MSF Sugar will establish 36 farming groups who will be assisted in the transition from existing farming systems to new, more efficient farming systems that lead to Smartcane BMP accreditation at ‘above industry standard’. The new farming system is based on the recently developed SRA Farming System which uses legume crop rotation, green cane trash blanketing, minimum tillage and controlled traffic to minimise soil compaction and reduce farm water runoff.

Under the project, the majority of grower groups invited to participate will be located in the Wet Tropics with a smaller number in the Burnett Mary region. The Reef Trust grant funding will be delivered in conjunction with loan financing to be provided by MSF Sugar and will leverage significant private investment and contributions from participating sugarcane farmers.

In addition to being a unique industry approach, according to MSF Sugar’s General Manager Agriculture, Trevor Crook, “The project is significant as fertiliser nitrogen loss to the Reef remains a key threat to the health and resilience of the Reef. This is caused through direct impacts and by increasing the frequency of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks”.

“The major source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen reaching the Reef is nitrogen fertiliser applied to sugarcane that is not taken up by the crop”.

The Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative builds on a successful pilot project currently underway in far north Queensland’s Mulgrave area that has been funded and led by MSF Sugar. Through the pilot, harvest figures on trial blocks have been shown to produce exactly twice the return to growers in terms of dollars per hectare year on year, while minimising fertilizer runoff and other environmental impacts.

According to Mr Crook, “This is a significant achievement and far exceeds the project’s initial expectations”.

“Through the pilot, we demonstrated the importance of reviewing and updating cane farming systems. Using the SRA Farming System the pilot farms have vastly improved water retention year on year which has had a positive impact on water runoff”.

MSF Sugar has a long-term vision to transform its mills from sugar manufacturing to bio-technology hubs where a multitude of different products will be produced. Achieving this goal requires a stable and resilient cane supply network which can only be achieved if the sector remains viable and profitable.

“As the biggest sugarcane farmer in Australia, MSF Sugar recognises that farming practices have an impact on the surrounding environment and in particular, the Great Barrier Reef. The company is therefore committed to reducing its effect on the environment, and this extends to all areas of the supply chain”, said Mr Barry.

In addition to updating its own farming practices, in providing financial assistance to growers MSF Sugar will facilitate the large-scale adoption of the SRA Farming System so that forward-thinking independent growers can also minimise their impact on the Reef.

The Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative has the support of an industry steering committee which includes four CANEGROWERS representatives, three MSF Sugar representatives, and one SRA representative. Terrain NRM and the Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership (WTSIP) have also been consulted in regard to project delivery and will remain as integral communication partners throughout the delivery of the project.

This is not the first time MSF Sugar has been recognised and rewarded for sustainable farming practices. In 2016 the company was recognised for its strategic and positive approach to sustainable farming with the Rural Award at the Queensland Premier’s Sustainability Awards.


For more information contact:
Mike Barry
Mob: 0401 896 999

Trevor Crook
MSF Sugar General Manager Agriculture
Mob: 0400 211 665

Read the case study: Project Uplift Pilot exceeds all expectations

MSF Sugar’s Group Agronomist Andrew Dougall

MSF Sugar’s Group Agronomist Andrew Dougall inspects cane planted using the SRA Farming System as part of the Project Uplift Farming Systems Initiative pilot. The pilot farms in the North Queensland area of Mulgrave have shown vastly improved water retention year on year which has had a positive impact on water runoff.










Further information on the Reef Trust, including the Phase V Investment Strategy is available at

Background to environmental impacts – why this partnership project is significant

The project will focus primarily on the key water quality threat: Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) from fertiliser use in the sugarcane industry (2013 Scientific Consensus Statement). DIN is a primary contributor to nutrient enrichment of the Reef lagoon, is linked to algal blooms, eutrophication, macro-algal overgrowth of coral and seagrass ecosystems, and increased frequency of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Elevated nutrient levels are also thought to contribute to lower bleaching thresholds in corals. The project will also address pesticide, sediment and associated particulate nutrient runoff from sugarcane, which pose a significant threat to coastal and inshore Reef ecosystems (2013 Scientific Consensus Statement).

The estimated water quality outcomes sought from this project include:

•    197,000 kg reduction in anthropogenic dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) load
•    752 kg reduction in pesticide mode
•    24,600,000 kg reduction in sediment load

Anticipated outcomes of the initiative include:
1.    Improved quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef from broad-scale land use; and
2.    A more profitable and resilient sugarcane industry.