Coke has been tipping millions into innovation for Queensland's sugarcane farmers

Canesugar farmer Garry Degauara. Image: Supplied.

Coke has upped its investment to improve yields of of Australian sugar cane farmers as well as reduce the amount of chemicals they use and boost their tech arsenal.

This week Coke invested another $500,000 into its Project Catalyst initiative, taking its total to $3.25 million over the past six years.

Also working on the project is the World Wildlife Fund and a number of government authorities. Project Catalyst now runs 40,000 hectares of farmland across 78 properties spanning north from Mackay to Mosman in the Wet Tropics.

Michelle Allen, sustainability, public affairs and communications manager at Coca-Cola explained that while the project aims to reduce the environmental impact of farming in the region there was also an economic side – the initiatives need to make the farms, and the $2 billion industry, more profitable.

Sugar is one of the key inputs into Coke’s beverages so being able to farm more of the commodity with less impact and cost over the longer term is a good thing for the multinational.

But for the project to work, farmers need to be willing to trial innovative and sometimes untested ways of farming the product.

Reef Catchments CEO Robert Cocco said: “Project Catalyst growers actively seek to do things differently. They are constantly coming to us with innovative ideas. It’s our local farmers who are championing this sustainability initiative – investing their time and efforts in finding new ways to improve water quality and preserve the Great Barrier Reef while making their own business more profitable through innovation.”

The program aims to test, validate and implement innovative farm practices that improve water quality and reduce sediment and chemical run-off from farms into river catchments that connect to the Great Barrier Reef.

Allen explained one of the initiatives is figuring out a better way to use “mill mud” a smelly by-product of sugarcane production. For every 7 million tonnes of sugar, 700,000 tonnes of mill mud is produced.

But it’s full of nutrients and can be used as a fertiliser – instead of farmers buying it. Spreading it effectively was one thing the project had to figure out. Scientists and farmers brought in GPS mapping to spread the mud more precisely for maximum benefit.

One part of the project is bringing all the growers together in a collaborative way so they can network and nut out new ideas – something that’s scheduled in for next month in Townsville.

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