Queensland’s new reef regulations – what you need to know - Elders Rural Services

Queensland’s new reef regulations – what you need to know

You’d be hard pressed finding a Queensland farmer who doesn’t love the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a symbol of sorts – grand, beautiful, one of a kind, with an emotional attachment.

The Queensland Government won the parliamentary vote on 19 September 2019 to strengthen Reef Regulations for commercial farming activities across five reef catchments. These regulations will affect broadacre cropping and beef cattle grazing in the Burdekin, Fitzroy, Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments.

They comprise the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019, amended sections of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and previous agricultural chemical usage provisions in the Chemical Usage (Agricultural and Veterinary) Control Act 1988.

Farming has become an Environmentally Relevant Activity across GBR catchments.

A permit (known as an Environmental Authority) authorises the commercial cropping and horticulture activity and will list standard conditions that apply. If landholders submit a standard application for ERA 13A, it will be a requirement of the environmental authority to comply with all the standard conditions.

For example, sugarcane farmers must comply with the agricultural ERA standard for sugarcane cultivation and there will be a different agricultural ERA standard for banana cultivation.

Record keeping

Records must be kept of fertiliser and agricultural chemical used on beef cattle grazing land within three days of application. This includes the date, location and application rate of any agricultural chemical, mill mud or fertiliser used on grazing land.

Records are to be held for six years and made available for inspection by government compliance officers. Any associated purchase invoices will need to be retained. Record keeping is required by all commercial beef-cattle graziers across all five reef catchments, excluding Cape York.

Different rules for land with less than 50 per cent ground cover

If grazing land has greater than 50 per cent ground cover, no further regulatory action is required for beef cattle graziers. However, graziers with land in poor or degraded condition (Land condition C and D), require measures to halt or improve land condition and keep a written record of implemented measures.

This includes measures to minimise runoff, such as adjusting stocking rates, wet season spelling, managing preferential grazing and preventing stock access to erodible areas. Grazing standards and associated written records of measures commence during year 2020 (Burdekin), 2021 (Fitzroy) and 2022 (Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary).

Commercial cropping (grain, hay, fodder – grown harvested and sold off-site)

From 1 June 2021 landowners will need to apply for an environmental authority (permit) PRIOR to developing new or expanded commercial cropping or horticulture on areas greater than five hectares, regardless of whether land has been previously cleared.

An environmental authority (permit) does not apply to closed system cropping (e.g. hydroponics); forage crops grazed in-situ, such as forage oats, forage sorghum and Leucaena or crops grown and used on-farm and not sold commercially. Any potential loss of sediment or nutrient must be prevented or mitigated, otherwise the cropping development application may be refused.

Anyone developing new cropping land prior to 1 June 2020 and who proposes to continue cropping for at least three years out of 10, including once in the last five years, will NOT be required to meet this farm design standard for new cropping.

Current draft, generic farm design standards for new cropping require five-metre vegetated buffers from receiving waters, measures to avoid loss of soil, nutrient and surface water run-off and minimal loss of irrigation water.

Standards for new commercial cropping and horticulture (ERA13A) will be finalised and implemented by 1 June 2021. Refer to the Queensland governement website.

Developing new cropping areas greater than 100 hectares is considered ‘high-risk’ by the Queensland Government and will require a site-specific reef water quality assessment application with details of tailored farm design measures to manage water quality risks. This involves a site-specific detailed farm plan that includes soil physical and chemical, land and slope attributes (unique map areas using similar procedure to “Guidelines for ag land evaluation in Qld”) and consideration of water quality risk components. Applicants for an activity that does not meet the eligibility criteria must make a site-specific application.

Thomas Elder Consulting (TEC) can assist landholders with these applications. 

New commercial cropping or preparation work commencing prior to 1 June 2021 will not require this Environmental Authority (permit), if ongoing cropping occurs for at least three out of 10 years.

All existing cropping areas

By December 2022 minimum practice cropping standards and record keeping requirements will be developed and implemented for all existing commercial crop producers in Reef regions, except eastern Cape York. Depending on risk to reef water quality, the standards may limit fertiliser inputs, application methods and require erosion control measures.

Commercial producers may be eligible for Rebates of up to $1,000 for professional advice from Accredited Agricultural Adviser. TEC consultant Peter Spies is an Accredited Agricultural Adviser Under the Farming in Reef Catchments Rebate Scheme for environmentally relevant activity (ERA) standards created in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

Mr Spies can provide professional advice regarding nutrient and sediment management, nitrogen and phosphorous budgets, as well as identification of physical and chemical constraints to yield, such as waterlogged, sodic, and acidic soils, compaction and poor yielding areas. He also provides advice for graziers on grazing land management; improving poor or degraded land condition with improved forage budgeting and soil conservation plans.


Reef farmers and graziers will need to know their rights and legal obligations for compliance with reef regulations (Agricultural Environmental Relevant Activity ERA Standards) through the audit and inspection phases of compliance. TEC can provide accurate guidance to clients and seeks formal legal and expert advice to assist producers.

For more information and advice contact Thomas Elder Consulting

Contact the TEC team