Last updated 26 April 2022.
Related articles on Reef regulations.

Read about the latest reef regulations requirements.

This page:

  1. What are the reef regs?
  2. Why oppose the reef regs?
  3. What is wrong with the science?
  4. What will be the impact on the industry?
  5. What are the impacts on producers?
  6. Don’t farmers want to protect the reef?
  7. What does AgForce want? 
  8. Timeline of reef regulations
  9. The AgForce Guide to Farming in Reef Regions
  10. Reef regulation audit checklist
  11. Agchem audit checklist - use and storage audits
  12. Reef regulation overview for Reef graziers


What are the Reef Regs?

  • Full name: Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019
  • The Act, passed by Queensland Government in September 2019, introduced restrictive regulation on industries, primarily agriculture, with the intention of reducing the amount of pollutants, nutrients and sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef “lagoon” (the bit between the outer reef and the coastline)
  • Cattle, cane, banana, crop and grain producers in Reef catchment areas are regulated, most for the first time.


Why oppose the Reef Regs?

  • AgForce opposes mandatory Reef regulations.
  • AgForce seeks to promote best practice and innovation through voluntary guidelines and an incentives scheme.
  • State Government’s Reef regulations impose onerous record-keeping and regulated Standards on commercial Reef farmers, without substantiated evidence that Reef health will benefit at all.
  • Mandatory regulations unfairly target farmers, rather than taking a whole-of-landscape approach. The focus should be on high-risk areas for sediment and nutrient runoff, rather than blanket Reef regulations over the entire 33.7M ha of agricultural land use.
  • Agricultural industries and regional communities have been deliberately excluded from the main law-making process. Every suggested amendment was ignored, yet the onus is on farmers to abide by them.
  • The “one-size fits all’ approach of the Act – regardless of what is produced or where – is clearly not going to lead to the best environmental outcomes for the Reef.
  • The Act gives power to the Environmental Chief Executive Officer to change minimum practice farming standards in any way at any time with no regard for the impacts on farmers or their communities. There is no mechanism to review or appeal any changes and no requirement that they be evidence-based.
  • The Act is a grab for private business data. Farm advisors are required to keep records of fertiliser and erosion control advice supplied to farmers and hand over records to government, on request.


What is wrong with the science?

  • The Queensland and Australian Governments have spent billions of dollars on reef health research over the past two decades and the solutions are still not clear.
  • Despite what some – including the State Government and green groups – say, there is no consensus on Reef science.
  • The Act is not based on the latest science. The most recent science they have considered is from 2017. The Government is relying on modelled outcomes rather than rigorous validating through an extensive network of land and Reef monitoring sites.
  • The validity of the science has been called into question by a number of respected reef scientists.
  • All we are asking the Queensland Government is to make sure the science is sound before such disruptive and onerous regulations are imposed on farmers. During 2019-2020, the Australian Government Senate is conducting an inquiry into evidence-based regulation of farm practices impacting on Reef water quality.
  • Several industry groups along with Queensland Senators are calling for a national Office of Science Quality Assurance to ensure government policies are based on holistic, evidence-based science.


What will be the impact on the industry?

  • These unnecessary laws impede on the efficiency of broadacre crop, cane and beef cattle industries across six Reef catchments which generate $4.35 billion in annual gross value of production (ABS 2018-19 agricultural commodities data).
  • Reef regulations impact on the wellbeing of our trusted farmers and reduce opportunities for future cropping, diversified commodities, renewable biofuels and Northern Australia development.
  • There is confusing interaction and overlap between Reef regulations and other state laws which protect land, vegetation, soil and waterways from land degradation and invasive biosecurity matter.


What are the impacts on producers?

  • All commercial beef producers, crop, cane and horticultural producers in the Great Barrier Reef catchment (except Cape York region) have to comply with commodity-specific minimum practice standards stipulated by the State Government.
  • From 1 December 2019, records detailing the date, location and application rate of any agricultural chemical, mill mud or fertiliser used on grazing land or cane land needs to be made within three days of application. This regulation applies to commercial beef cattle graziers and cane farmers across five Reef Catchments. Records are to be kept for six years and available for checking by State Government Compliance Officers.
  • Commercial graziers with less than 50 per cent ground cover on the 30th September each year will require to record and implement measures to halt and /or improve grazing land condition in poor and degraded areas.
  • From 1 June 2021, new or expanded commercial cropping and horticulture areas (grains, cane, hay, fodder, biofuels) greater than five hectares will require to apply for an environmental authority (permit) and pay a fee before commencing operations. New areas greater than 100 hectares require a site-specific application for land, soil and irrigation suitability.  New cropping applies to areas not cropped three times in the last ten years.
  • Cane farmers must use a prescribed soil test method to calculate and apply nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers to each block or zone. No broadcast application of N and P fertilisers. Fallow blocks must have a cover crop or trash. Sediment control and water runoff measures are required. Commencing in December 2021, cane farmers must have their farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget verified by an appropriate person and application rates are not to exceed the farm budget. Annual calculations of application rates and harvest yield records are required.
  • Minimum practice standards for existing cropping will be developed and implemented by December 2022.


Don’t farmers want to protect the reef?

  • Farmers take their responsibility to the environment and especially the Great Barrier Reef seriously.
  • They are engaged with a multitude of programs to drive farm practice improvement and innovation to deliver improved water quality and sustainable businesses.
  • Everyone is striving for the same outcomes – healthy landscapes and Reef, a strong and viable agriculture industry, and vibrant communities. We just believe that voluntary collaboration and co-operation will better achieve these outcomes than more heavy-handed legislation and onerous record-keeping.


What does AgForce want?

  • AgForce wants evidence-based policy for Reef, rather than misguided influence from politics and other agendas. 
  • Farmers care for their land, animals, crops and the Reef. Many farms have been in the same family for three or more generations. 
  • Food security and sustainable production systems are essential.
  • We all want best outcomes for thriving landscapes, a healthy Reef and be ready to adapt to tropical weather variability.
  • All Governments to support uptake of voluntary standards, as the most effective and lowest-cost way of improving farming practices and environmental outcomes, not mandatory standards that stifle innovation and place unnecessary requirements on the majority of producers who are doing the right thing.
  • Governments to recognise most producers were at, or above best practice before Reef funding programs commenced. The uptake of best practice is always underestimated in Reef Report Cards, as they only count producers involved in NRM and Reef funding grants and in direct contact with DAF/NRM extension officers.
  • A holistic approach to Reef science and utilise new emerging Reef science, before considering the need for Reef regulations. Include geoscience to increase understanding of the Great Barrier Reef formation and ocean impacts. Sediment tracing by TropWater at James Cook University has confirmed very fine suspended sediment only makes it to river deltas and inner shore reefs, which is less than three per cent of the entire GBR area. There are many sources of available nitrogen, not just fertiliser from agricultural sources. Pesticide runoff is not a risk to Reef health. Governments need to stop vilifying Reef farmers and refocus funding expenditure on managing major issues affecting Reef health, such as increasing sea temperatures, marine heat waves, coral predation and resilience to tropical weather systems.


Timeline of reef regulations

  • 2009
    • These regulations apply to the Burdekin, Wet Tropics, and Mackay Whitsunday catchments for use of four residual herbicides and fertiliser in cane and one residual herbicide on grazing land.
    • The requirement to produce Environmental Risk Management Plans were revoked when the new Reef Regulation Act passed in September 2019.
  • 1 December 2019
    • The requirement to keep records of fertilisers and agricultural chemicals used on all commercial beef cattle grazing land and cane farms across five Reef catchments commenced. It excludes eastern Cape York.
    • Cane minimum practice standards and compliance audits for Wet Tropics, Burdekin, and Mackay Whitsunday catchments commenced.
  • 1 December 2020
    • Beef cattle grazing minimum practice standards commenced in the Burdekin catchment. Requires ground cover assessment on 30 September each year.
  • 1 June 2021
    • Producers will have to apply for an environmental authority (permit) and pay a fee before new or expanded commercial cropping and horticulture can commence, regardless of whether or not land has been previously cleared or is under a Property Map of Assessable Vegetation (PMAV).
    • This applies to all six Reef catchments on new cropping areas greater than five hectares, unless preparation work commenced prior to 1 June 2021. More details in our fact sheet on new or expanded cropping and hay sales.
    • Cropping history test: new cropping requirements applies to land not cropped more than three times in the last 10 years. Commercial cropping is any planted cane, grain, hay, fodder, horticulture, or pasture seed crop from cultivated land, harvested and sold off-farm for a fee or reward. This includes any new agricultural or biofuel crop developments. Exemptions are Leucaena, grazed forage crops, fodder used on farm and development approvals for High Value Agriculture HVA or Irrigated HVA.
  • 1 December 2021
    • Beef cattle grazing practice standards commence in the Fitzroy catchment.
    • Cane farm nitrogen and phosphorus budgets commence in Wet Tropics, Burdekin, and Mackay Whitsunday catchments.
  • 1 December 2022
    • Beef cattle grazing practice standards commence in the Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday, and Burnett Mary catchments.
    • Cropping minimum practice standards commence across five Reef catchments, except eastern Cape York.
    • Cane minimum practice standards and cane farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget commence in Fitzroy and Burnett Mary catchments.

For more information, visit the Queensland Government strengthening Reef regulations website, phone 13 74 68, or email


The AgForce Guide to Farming in Reef Regions

Our guide provides a summary of Reef regulatory requirements and record-keeping for grazing, cane and cropping. It includes a checklist of other regulations and legislation affecting Reef producers, including GBR wetland protection areas, works within watercourses, native vegetation, protected plants and matters of national and local environmental significance.

Get the latest 14-page guide for FREE.


Reef regulation audit checklist

Reef producers subject to an audit by a Queensland Departmental of Environment and Science Compliance Officer need to be aware of record-keeping requirements. This audit checklist will help you prepare necessary records.

Where possible, arrange a record-keeping audit meeting with the Compliance Officer off-farm. Otherwise, an authorised Compliance Officer can enter your agricultural ERA land after five days' written notice or with your consent. The Compliance Officer may keep your records to take an extract or make a copy, then must return the documents.


Agchem audit checklist - Click Here - Agchemical use and storage audits

Agchemical use audits are being conducted by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries compliance officers. These audits, under the Chemical Usage (Ag & Vet) Control Act 1988, may check your agchemical usage records, storage shed and access to agchemical safety data sheets. Agchemical usage records should include product name and application rate, date applied, location, weather, equipment used and user’s name and contact details.

An agvet chem compliance officer has authority to enter a place where agchemical and spray equipment is stored or used. There are additional receipts, usage and competency training requirements for five residual herbicides used across three Reef catchments. These additional requirements are for cane farmers using atrazine, ametryn, diuron or hexazinone and graziers using tebuthiuron in the Burdekin, Wet Tropics and Mackay Whitsunday catchments.