We’re all connected by water

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My name is Denis Pozzebon, and I am a second-generation cane farmer in the Burdekin. In 1954, my father emigrated from Italy. He had nothing in his pocket. (He always tells me that story.)

When dad made it up to Queensland, he went off to cut cane by hand. He did that for a few years and saved up enough money to bring his wife out from Italy and eventually buy his first farm, and that’s where we are now.

Cane flower heads, North Queensland. © Kerry Trapnell - WWF-AusCane flower heads, North Queensland. © Kerry Trapnell – WWF-Aus

Growing up on the farm was absolutely fun, driving tractors from the age of five or six, sitting on the side of the tractor with dad, watching him drive it up and down the sugar cane paddocks. I was just trying to get as dirty as I could, checking water, changing water, running around with dad all the time.

Dad’s always loved growing sugarcane, and I’ve taken that on as well. It’s a passion of mine.

We’ll start our day at 4:30 in the morning and we’re usually out and about by 5:30 to go planting cane, harvesting, irrigating or watering.

Water is the most important thing on our farm. Without it, we can’t grow crops. Water is our saviour and that’s why we’ve got to look after it, we can’t waste it.

So, we have a number of recycle pits. We capture 90 per cent of our irrigation water that would have gone off farm and we re-pump it into the system. We use soil moisture sensor probes, which tell us when the plant needs water, helping us to irrigate properly.

No more guessing. Yep, it’s as accurate as we can get it.

Waterbirds on farm dam, Mackay North Queensland. © Kerry Trapnell - WWF-AusWaterbirds on farm dam, Mackay North Queensland. © Kerry Trapnell – WWF-Aus

We now use technology like a guidance system, or a shield sprayer, so we can control how much fertilizer or chemical we put on our crops. We can measure our fertilizer applications to the exact litre, to the exact kilo. We don’t waste fertilizer. We don’t waste chemicals.

We don’t want to see chemical run-off. We don’t want to see nutrient run-off out onto the Great Barrier Reef.

There’s been a lot of talk of nutrient run-off. It’s not just from farming, but farmers like me are doing all they can do with recycle pits to make sure that nutrients don’t run-off into the rivers and out to the reef.

I believe that it’s very important for farmers, especially in my water catchment area, to do the right thing. We live near Bowling Green Bay and there are dugongs and turtles that live out there.

To me that is important. I want to see my daughter go out there one day and see these creatures.

Great Barrier Reef © Troy MayneGreat Barrier Reef © Troy Mayne

I believe you can be environmentally sustainable, and still grow your cane. And I would love to see the reef protected for future generations.

Dad always told me that we should stay with the times, think ahead, take that leap forward if you see something, and go to new technology. I tinker a lot with technology, and I do a lot of that in the original shed Dad built back around1975. The shed is important to us. We’ve built a lot of stuff over the years: from my ideas and my fathers’ ideas.

Don’t just sit back. You’ve got to move with the times, you’ve got to think outside the square.

Dad taught me that.

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Denis is part of Project Catalyst, a pioneering group that works with WWF-Australia, the Coca-Cola foundation, Natural Resource Management Groups and the Australian government to promote more sustainable sugarcane production for a healthy Great Barrier Reef.

© Kerry Trapnell - WWF-Aus© Kerry Trapnell – WWF-Aus

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