Land managers decision making about water quality: views from extension officers of the Wet Tropics, Queensland, Australia

Hay, Rachel, and Eagle, Lynne (2018) Land managers decision making about water quality: views from extension officers of the Wet Tropics, Queensland, Australia. Report. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre,

PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


This report delivers results from the second round of data collection via an abridged survey based on the first round data collection, the land manager survey, which was originally delivered in the Wet Tropics region in 2016. The abridged survey was delivered in 2017 as second round data collection, at the request of the Natural Resource Management (NRM) agency, to extension officers and to land managers in the Wet Tropics region of Queensland, Australia (See Section 2.1). Due to the small sample size the analysis is primarily descriptive and compares responses from extension officers in 2017 to responses from land managers in 2016.

The 2017 second round land manager survey data was not used as it incorrectly reports on irrigation practices, which are not used in the wet tropics, and not on nutrient or drain management practices. The report also provides recommendations for key stakeholders regarding possible actions that should be considered in future interactions between extension officers and land managers in the Wet Tropics and other cane growing regions. The final version of the abridged questionnaire is included as Appendix 1.

The extension officers involved in the survey were from six of the nine river catchment areas of the Wet Tropics cane growing region (see Section 3.1.1). The experience of extension officers vary from 1-3 years to 35+ years in the industry. Insights from the analysis follow, along with a brief recommendation, which outlines strategies that can be used to fine-tune existing landholder interactions. Further explanation of the recommendations can be found in Section 8.0.

Decision Making Influencers

The data identifies that extension officers may be underestimating the importance of land manager decision influencers (e.g. protecting the Great Barrier Reef, family and servicing debt., see Section 6.2), which may lead to distrust or lack of respect for the extension officer. Misunderstanding the importance of decision influencers may change the way messages are sent and received, which can significantly affect the way that messages about water quality are processed and how they influence behaviour change.

Recommendation: Use social network analysis to identify information gatekeepers and opinion leaders.

Grants and Funding

How extension officers perceive success and or failure in grant applications may present barriers or enablers for land managers who apply for grants or funding. If the land manager via the extension officer perceives a threat of not receiving a grant, then the land manager may not take the time to apply for any grants that are available and if they do apply, their application may be inhibited by the extension officers perceived rate of success i.e. they may not put as much effort into the grant application if they perceive it will not be successful.


• Recognise the key role of extension officers and determine what professional development support might be beneficial in continuing to build trust and engagement with land managers.

Workshops, Training Programs and Other Activities

Extension officers responded that land managers sought information about workshops, training programs and other activities from their industry extension networks, industry bodies and friends and personal networks. At the time of the survey, the workshops, training and activities were important to improving land and soil management practices to raise awareness of water quality issues as well as accreditation and networking. Extension officers thought that land managers found all workshops useful, but in particular Six Easy Steps, soil health workshops and SRA Masterclasses were identified as most valuable. Extension officers indicated that holding workshops, training and other activities outside of the harvest season, targeting skills deficiency and better coordinated systems would make the activities work better for land managers. Extension officers responded that nutrient management, soil chemistry, more involvement with extension officers and strategic coordinated extension programs with assistance from the DEHP would help in future to assist land managers to make farm improvements.


• Recognise land manager diversity but use typology principles to develop material and communication approaches to support extension officers

• Build on the role of farmers whose views are respected as potential information gatekeepers/disseminators /role models.

Nutrient Management Practices

There are some disparities between extension officers and land managers thoughts on how land managers make decisions about nutrient management practices. When calculating fertilizer application rates, land managers rated tailoring their own fertilizer rates higher than using industry standards, while extension officers rated that they thought land managers used rated using industry standards higher than tailoring their own fertilizer rates. Both land managers and extension officers identified that land managers also use their advisors to calculate fertilizer application rates. This finding indicates with some confidence that land managers are calculating fertilizer rates using industry standards. However, extension officer’s anecdotal comments indicate that land managers may think they are using the industry standard (Six Easy Steps) but are incorrectly applying the standard and therefore may not be meeting the industry standard. This may be because land managers in addition to using best management practice are also calculating fertilizer rates based on experience, alternative methods, based on soil tests and by seeking advice from local private agronomists. The majority of farmers are using these tools to calculate fertilizer rates because their peers are also using these tools.

Run-Off Management Practices

In most cases extension officers indicated that land managers in the wet tropics do not capture run-off from their farms. However, when land managers do capture runoff, extension officers responded that they use grass headlands, drain systems, laser leveling and sediment traps or recycle pits. In 2016, 42% of land managers selected that they had recycle pits/sediment traps to manage run-off, whereas in this 2017 survey, only 15.8% of extension officers selected that land managers use sediment traps. Extension officers support this with anecdotal comments that there is a limited use of sediment traps in the Wet Tropics Region (see Table 25). Land managers are influenced by other farmers when using the systems that they choose to handle runoff. Extension officers are not sure if land managers in the Wet Tropics can afford to use the practices available for handling runoff, but were confident that they had the technical knowledge to handle run-off. Extension officers and land managers nominated industry extension advisors as people whose advice land mangers most frequently follow when handling run-off. The least important advisors for capturing run-off identified by extension officers were regional cane associations and Landcare.

Other Innovative Practices

Extension officers have identified that land managers are using other innovative practices including bed renovators, contour planting, experiments with flocculants (a particle clumping substance), grassed headlands and riparian vegetation, wet land bioreactors (a natural water purification process), sediment traps, minimum tillage, wetlands, spoon drains, subsurface fertilizer application, headland management, correct drainage, trash blanketing and spraying out and covering fallowed fields. One extension officer stated that “the innovation is about minimising the amount of sediment, DIN and chemicals, which is about placement, timing, farming systems; there are plans to intercept groundwater DIN using filters” as a solution to reducing runoff.

Perceptions of Causes and Pressure on Water Quality

Extension officers agreed (84.2%) that nutrient losses from cane growing are having an effect on the water quality of local streams, rivers and waterways and land managers (42%) disagreed, responding that cane growing has no effect on the water quality of local streams, rivers and waterways. By Contrast, while 30% of land managers believe that their activities are negatively affecting water quality, none of the extension officers believe that land managers take this view. About 13% of land managers were unsure and 15% took a neutral stance about nutrient losses affecting water quality and a small percent of extension officers nominated that they didn’t know if cane farming has an impact on water quality.


• Ensure all communication, by whatever means, sends consistent messages irrespective of source, and channelling communication through trusted sources. Monitor media coverage and respond to inaccurate messages and develop proactive media relationships.

• Review communication strategies, adding social media where appropriate. Need to recognise the overall diversity of information sources and preferences.

• Proactive plans should be developed for combating or at least minimising the effects of competing and conflicting messages including negative media coverage (see Eagle et al., 2016, Section 2.7). We have reviewed media coverage of the Great Barrier Reef during 2016 (excluding tourism-related coverage). The findings indicate that the media presents a sensationalised and, at times, hostile perspective on reef-related issues (Eagle, Hay, & Low, 2018), although there is evidence that this is improving in the 2017 media analysis that is under way.

A more detailed analysis is contained in the following sections of this report.

Item ID: 58379
Item Type: Report (Report)
ISBN: 978-1-925514-32-2
Keywords: Land Managers, Great Barrier Reef, Grazing, Sugar Cane, Water Quality, Extension Officers, Wet Tropics
Copyright Information: © James Cook University, 2018 Creative Commons Attribution Questionnaire Design, Sampling Strategy and Preliminary Findings: The Wet Tropics region is licensed by the James Cook University for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Australia licence. For licence conditions see:
Additional Information:

NESP Project 2.1.3 Interim report 7

Funders: National Environmental Science Program (NESP)
Projects and Grants: NESP Project 2.1.3
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2019 22:41
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1505 Marketing > 150502 Marketing Communications @ 50%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1505 Marketing > 150506 Marketing Theory @ 50%
SEO Codes: 82 PLANT PRODUCTION AND PLANT PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8203 Industrial Crops > 820304 Sugar @ 10%
83 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8303 Livestock Raising > 830301 Beef Cattle @ 10%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960608 Rural Water Evaluation (incl. Water Quality) @ 80%
Downloads: Total: 69
Last 12 Months: 13
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page