Burdekin cane farmers will have to leave one of their most valuable tools locked in the shed this summer because of what Federal Member for Dawson, George Christensen, claims is a "Greens-inspired act of bastardry" by a government regulator.
Mr Christensen toured Burdekin, Whitsundays and Mackay cane farms yesterday with Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, John Cobb, where they met with local growers to discuss the temporary suspension of the herbicide diuron.
The sugar industry is highly dependent on diuron as the most cost-effective means of weed control but the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has temporarily suspended its use from December 1 until March 31.
The APVMA had previously proposed to ban diuron outright, but sound science and lobbying from both Canegrowers, other industry groups, and MPs like Mr Christensen, who raised the matter in Canberra, saved the chemical from what many thought would be its demise.
However, the temporary suspension of diuron was, according to Mr Christensen, really just banning the product by stealth as many cane farmers needed to use the product in December. And there is widespread concern that this temporary suspension will become a permanent fixture with a four-month ban on the product every year.
"What we have here is a Greens-inspired act of bastardry from the Gillard Labor government's chemical regulator," Mr Christensen said.
“There was clear scientific proof that there was no environmental harm from farmers using diuron but the APVMA has bowed to Green pressure by suspending its usage when farmers most need it on the ground.
"This is like saying you're not banning woollen jumpers but simply temporarily suspending the wearing of them in winter."
Without the use of diuron in December, when cane is in its early growth stage, shrubs and weeds get out of control on cane farms, which not only makes vermin, wild dogs and feral pigs a bigger problem than normal but also reduces tonnage and sugar content in the cane.
That means less work and pay for mill workers and less money for farmers and the businesses that rely on the cane farmers' spend.
"This is clearly a case of green groups going off half-cocked in an effort to kill off any industry they can,” Mr Christensen said.
The AVPMA argues that the temporary suspension is needed to ensure the product is not washed into waterways by seasonal heavy rain but Mr Christensen said farmers would not be so wasteful.
“Even though diuron is far more cost effective than anything else on the market, no farmer is going to be using it if there was a chance it would be washed away. They simply can’t afford to take that risk."
Mr Christensen said the APVMA's temporary suspension of diuron, if made a permanent fixture, would seriously threaten the financially viability of an entire industry in North Queensland.