Reef Regulations: individual and industry impacts

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Reef Regulations: individual and industry impacts

December update

From 1 December 2019, records detailing the date, location and application rate of any agricultural chemical or fertiliser used on grazing land needs to be made within three days of application.

Find the latest reef regulations impacts for December 2019.


Read CEO Michael Guerin's speech to the reef regulations rally in Townsville and watch the videoSee our Facebook page for more videos.

NFF joins Queensland farmers in plea for sensible regulation.

This page:

  1. What are the reef regs?
  2. Why does AgForce oppose the reef regs?
  3. What is wrong with the science?
  4. What will be the impact on the industry?
  5. What is the impacts on producers?
  6. Don’t farmers want to protect the reef?
  7. What does AgForce want? 
  8. Timeline of reef regulations

What are the Reef Regs

  • Full name: Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019
  • The Act, passed by Queensland Government in September 2019, introduces restrictive regulation on industries, primarily agriculture, with the intention of reducing the amount of pollutants, nutrients and sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef “lagoon” (the bit between the outer reef and the coastline)
  • Cattle, crop and grain producers in five Reef catchment areas are regulated, most for the first time.

Why does AgForce oppose the Reef Regs

  • The Act, more record-keeping and mandatory agricultural practice standards are not needed.
  • Imposes onerous record-keeping and action and farm design plans on 12,500 graziers and 1,000 grain growers without any evidence that the Reef will benefit at all.
  • It unfairly targets primary producers (incorrectly assuming we are the main source of pollutants, nutrients and sediment) rather than taking a whole-of-landscape approach.
  • The agriculture industry and regional communities have been deliberately excluded from the main law-making process, and every single one of our suggested amendments were ignored, yet the onus will be on us to abide by them.
  • The “one-size fits all’ approach of the Act – regardless of what you produce or where in the reef catchment you produce it – is clearly not going to lead to the best environmental outcomes.
  • The Act gives the Government the power to change minimum farming standards in any way at any time with no regard for the impacts on farmers or their communities. There is no mechanism to review or appeal any changes and no requirement that they be evidence-based.
  • The Act is a grab for private business data. Farm advisors will be required to keep and hand over to government on request records of any advice, products or services they’ve supplied to farmers. This includes advice on applying fertiliser and agricultural chemicals and on erosion control.

What is wrong with the science?

  • The Queensland and Australian Governments have spent billions of dollars on reef health research over the past two decades and the solutions are still not clear.
  • Despite what some – including the State Government and green groups – say, there is no consensus on Reef science.
  • The Act is not based on the latest science. The most recent science they have considered is from 2017. The Government is relying on modelled outcomes rather than rigorous validating through an extensive network of land and Reef monitoring sites.
  • The validity of the science has been called into question by a number of respected reef scientists.
  • All we are asking the Queensland Government is to make sure the science is sound before such disruptive and onerous regulations are imposed on farmers. During 2019-2020, the Australian Government Senate is conducting an inquiry into evidence-based regulation of farm practices impacting on Reef water quality.

What will be the impact on the industry?
These draconian laws will impede decimate Queensland’s $15 billion agriculture industry and opportunity for future cropping developments.

What are the impacts on producers?

  • All commercial beef producers, crop and grain producers (as well as sugarcane, fruit and vegetable growers) in the Great Barrier Reef catchment (except Cape York region) will have to comply with commodity-specific minimum practice standards stipulated by the Government.
  • Commercial graziers with less than 50 per cent ground cover in September each year will require to record and implement measures to halt and /or improve grazing land condition in poor and degraded areas.
  • New or expanded commercial cropping areas (grains, hay, fodder) greater than five hectares will be required to apply for an environmental authority (permit) and pay a fee before commencing operations. New areas greater than 100 hectares require a site-specific application for land, soil and irrigation suitability. New cropping applies to areas not cropped three times in the last ten years, with one crop cycle in the last five years.
  • From 1 December 2019, graziers are to keep record of fertiliser use on pasture and use of agricultural chemicals.
  • Grains minimum practice standards will be developed over the next three years.

Don’t farmers want to protect the reef?

  • Farmers take their responsibility to the environment and especially the Great Barrier Reef seriously.
  • They are engaged with a multitude of programs to drive farm practice improvement and innovation to deliver improved water quality and sustainable businesses.
  • Everyone is striving for the same outcomes – healthy landscapes and Reef, a strong and viable agriculture industry, and vibrant communities. We just believe that voluntary collaboration and co-operation will better achieve these outcomes than more heavy-handed legislation.

What does AgForce want?

  • The Government to support the uptake of voluntary standards (such as AgForce’s Natural Capital Program), as the most effective and lowest-cost way of improving farming practices and environmental outcomes, not mandatory standards that stifle innovation and place unnecessary requirements on the majority of producers who are doing the right thing.
  • The government to recognise many more producers were at or above best practice before Reef funding programs commenced. The uptake of best practice is always underestimated in Reef Report Cards, as they only count producers involved in NRM grants and directly in contact with DAF extension officers.
  • The Government to consider new emerging Reef science before considering the need for Reef regulations. For example, sediment tracing by Tropwater at James Cook University has confirmed that only the very fine suspended sediment makes it to the river deltas and inner shore reefs.  New research has shown there are many sources of nitrogen, not just fertiliser or agricultural sources, for example from leaf and organic matter in waterways.

Timeline of reef regulations



December 2019

Keep records of fertilisers and agricultural chemicals used on beef cattle grazing land across all six Reef catchments, except eastern Cape York. Provide access to these records to environmental compliance officers, on request.

Fee-for-service farm advisers on activities relating to regulated agricultural activities in Reef regions to keep detailed records of advice and location for six years. Provide access to these records to environmental compliance officers, on request.

January to June 2020

30-day public submission period for proposed farm design standards for new or expanded cropping areas greater than 5 hectares.

Commercial cropping is considered any grain, pulse, hay, fodder crop grown, harvested and sold off-property.

Excludes fodder crops grown and used by a grazier for their own cattle and not sold to other producers.

June 2020

Environmental authority (permit) for new or expanded cropping across all six Reef catchments commences.

This requires producers to complete an application before new cropping can commence, regardless if land has been previously cleared. New cropping or preparation work commenced prior to 1 June 2020 will not require this permit, as along as ongoing cropping occurs for at least three out of ten years.

Producers must demonstrate no or minimised runoff of nutrient and sediment from the proposed cropping system.

December 2020

Beef cattle grazing practice standards commence in the Burdekin catchment.

December 2021

Beef cattle grazing practice standards commence in the Fitzroy catchment.

December 2022

Beef cattle grazing practice standards commence in the Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments.

Grains minimum practice standards commence in all Reef catchments, except eastern Cape York.


For more information, visit the Queensland Government strengthening Reef regulations website, phone 13 74 68, or email

Reef Regulations: individual and industry impacts

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