Acid Sulfate Project - Environmental Success

Acid sulfate soils are not a threat to the environment when waterlogged but if exposed to air, as can occur in the process of normal cane farming practice, decompose to release sulfuric acid.

When the resulting sulfuric acid drains from the soil into river systems, the high level of acidity can disrupt aquatic communities and cause fish kills.

This issue emerged as a significant environmental concern for the NSW sugar industry following a major incident in the Tweed River in 1987. The river became clear and devoid of aquatic fauna for several months.

To prevent re-occurrence, the sugar industry has developed a series of initiatives to increase awareness of the issue and promote appropriate management techniques. These include the production of Guidelines for Drain Construction and Maintenance in Acid Sulfate Soils, developed in conjunction with the NSW Environmental Protection Agency. A copy of the guidelines was issued to all NSW growers and its message reinforced through grower meetings and other publications.

Additionally the NSW Soil Conservation Service released acid sulfate soils risk maps of coastal NSW, that indicated potential risk on a large scale.

However, the most recent step by the industry to deal with this issue has been its involvement in a CRC Sugar and NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative initiated acid sulfate soils project. Titled Interactive Farm Management Project, it is currently underway in the cane farms of northern NSW and is reinforcing the concept of developing sustainable farming practices.

The program aims to increase the adoption of best practices and reduce acid in waterways in the NSW cane growing region. It involves the testing of all 700-plus cane farms in NSW for actual and potential acid sulfate soils by the end of 1999. Each farm will then be required to comply with a self-regulatory acid sulfate soils management program.

Individual farm management plans, a best practice document and an annual independent audit of farms will ensure that council environmental regulations, formulated for the benefit of the community, are being adhered to. These will all be implemented with minimal interference to the work of the farmer.

Another recent initiative of the industry is the establishment of excavator operator training courses. These courses, in conjunction with NSW Agriculture, ensure that appropriate techniques are employed in areas of potential acid sulfate soils threat.

Soil testing, the farm management plans and the excavator operator training are all steps taken by the industry toward ensuring best practice is being implemented, and the threat of acid soils is being vastly reduced

Once refined, this model may well prove a useful reference model for other industries facing similar issues.

For further media information, please contact:

Patricia Kennedy Telephone: 07 4781 5963

CRC for Sustainable Sugar Production Facsimile: 07 4781 5506

James Cook University


31 August 1998

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