Farmers Thinking Differently

December 17, 2015

Farmers Thinking Differently

Farmers in discussion at Silkwood Innovation Forum

Innovative agricultural practices that focus on soil health are enabling Wet Tropics farmers to increase profitability through healthier, more resilient crops. But it also helps improve the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.  


Fostering innovation in agriculture is one of Terrain’s strategies for meeting the Government’s reef targets. We know that farmers learn best from each other so Terrain is building innovator networks amongst the Wet Tropics farming community by creating forums and events where farmers can congregate and ‘cross-fertilise’ ideas across industries.  

Recently we held our first innovation forum in Silkwood, which was attended by over 50 farmers from a huge cross section of the horticulture and agriculture industry. The purpose of the event was to:

  • Create a safe space for the sharing of ideas, information and experiences across industries and between farmers
  • Build skills to help farmers working in innovative systems
  • Stimulate new ways of thinking
  • Build confidence to try new ideas
  • Develop alliances that support information sharing both within and outside the region


The forum included a number of presentations and was followed by a field trip to a local cane farm to look at nitrogen reduction trials under a Reef Water Quality Innovation grant.

Terrain began the forum by introducing participants to The Innovation Cycle exercise and asking them to identify where they were on the 5-step continuum between ‘new idea’ and ‘best practice’. Each farmer then discussed what had helped them get there, what had held them back and what would help them to progress further.

Three farmers who had done things differently then presented their stories of challenge and change.

Debbie Caamano, a lime grower from Mareeba, talked about their change from conventional to biofertiliser application and how this has resulted in input savings costs and improved fruit quality. The Ingham Soil Health Group presented on a three-year trial to reduce N fertilisers by using biological inputs instead, and with a target of no yield loss and being able to continue to ratoon for seven years. Rob Watson, from Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy, explored the highs and lows of pioneering a new system 27 years ago, and what still drives him.

Two skill-building session also looked at how to monitor and measure changes in trials, and how to cost any management change in your system. While the costing exercises were challenging all agreed that this was a necessary, if unpleasant, part of embarking on change.

As with other workshops provided through Terrain, this forum showed that there is a thirst for new knowledge amongst many farmers. As one said, “We realised that though we had been farming for many years, we knew nothing about the soil health.”

For more information contact Terrain staff Fiona George 0488 702 203 or Gavin Kay 0403 537 857