Students Tour Wet Tropics

Monica Haynes
July 28, 2017

Students from 22 countries have investigated Wet Tropics water quality issues in a week of intensive study.

The Integrated Water Management Masters course is coordinated by the International Water Centre, a collaboration between Griffith University and the University of Queensland.

Wade Hadwen, convenor of the study tour, said the Wet Tropics was chosen because of the intense focus on the reef in politics and in the media. “It’s a good chance for students to reflect on all the demands on water and how that ultimately impacts the reef,” he said.

Integrated water management looks at water’s multiple values in an approach that brings together environmental, social and agricultural sectors as it tracks the journey from catchment to coast.

After a visit to the Paddock to Reef monitoring site at Silkwood and a background briefing by Terrain’s Michael Nash on water quality modelling, students headed out on farm. Terrain’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Fiona George helped connect students with landholders. The RLF is an important role, made possible through funding from the National Landcare Programme.

“We wanted to get the students out talking to farmers in a problem based learning environment. Enabling these kinds of visits to farms is extremely valuable and I can’t thank Fiona enough for facilitating this,” said Mr Hadwen.

Students investigated a range of farming systems and crops with different water management requirements, from fertigation in bananas using creek water, rain-fed sugar cane near Innisfail, a lime farm on regulated water allocation at Mareeba, mixed cropping operations in Tolga, and a biodynamic dairy.

“It was fantastic to see the students’ interactions with the farmers and understanding more about the complexities of agricultural production, markets and environmental management. The farmers were very generous and open with their information,” said Ms George.

Mr Hadwen said it had been enlightening seeing farming outfits that are at the leading edge of the industry, and getting to better understand how science has influenced decision making about practice changes.

“The region is diverse in terms of agriculture and soil type. Often, inherited land is not in great shape and a lot of work goes into fixing and improving yield. We’re interested in the barriers to, and drivers for change. There’s instances where funding has really helped people to leap into a more innovative space.”

The study tour was so successful, Mr Hadwen hopes it will become an annual event.