Sugar, Nitrogen, Great Barrier Reef, Pollution, Farmers

Sugar, Nitrogen

Nitrate buster trialled on far-north Queensland farms to avoid run-off to Great Barrier Reef

Nitrate buster trialled on far-north Queensland farms to avoid run-off to Great Barrier Reef

15/09/2019 11:56:00 PM

Nitrate buster trialled on far-north Queensland farms to avoid run-off to Great Barrier Reef

Farmers build bioreactors on their farms to reduce run-off of fertilisers that have been blamed for declining coral health.

Key points:Bioreactors, made up of trench systems dug around sugarcane fields, are being tested at Queensland farmsIt is hoped they will act as a potential solution to nitrogen run-off from farms into the Great Barrier ReefMany farmers still dispute that they are at fault for the allegations of nitrogen run-off levelled at them

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Six bioreactors are being built around Tully and Innisfail under the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project, a $15-million Queensland Government project delivered by Terrain NRM.A 10-metre trench dug between sugarcane paddocks and a nearby drain will trap water running from the field, where it will slowly filter through woodchips where bacteria strip it of any nitrates.

Bioreactor expert with Australian Wetland Consulting, Mark Bayley, said the invention mimics natural processes, to denitrify the water."It's a carbon-rich, oxygen-poor environment — essentially it will be like a giant peaty swamp," he said.

"The bacteria, bugs that you can't see, they're using the nitrate as food, [this] is the simplest way to describe it."Nitrogen gas will then seep up through the reactor and into the atmosphere."I think it'll get rid of 80 to 95 per cent of the nitrate."

Unknown quantityWhile science has detected nitrogen making its way to the Coral Sea, uncertainty still surrounds the actual amounts leaving from paddocks."We just don't have a good handle on how much nitrate is in there when it comes off the paddocks, if it comes off in large volumes," Mr Bayley said.

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