Contaminant impacts from agricultural and rural industries

We provide science to underpin natural resource management in environments impacted by agricultural and rural industries.

The Challenge

Contaminants in rural environments

Agricultural, horticultural and other rural industrial activities lead to releases of contaminants (such as nutrients, pesticides, dissolved organic carbon, pathogens) that can contaminate soils, sediments and waters in the adjacent environments.

Close proximity of agricultural land use can often have an ecological footprint on the downstream environment. For example, the health of world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is threatened by nutrients and pesticides in the farm runoff.

Use of agrochemicals like herbicides can lead to contamination of soils, sediments and waters, with flow on effects to surrounding ecosystems.

Intensive agriculture in drinking water catchments, such as horticulture in South Australia's Mount Lofty Ranges, can potentially impair water quality and lead to increased treatment costs

Global food security will require more food per unit area and therefore a greater reliance on agrochemicals. Innovative management options are required to maximise the benefits from the agricultural inputs (e.g. agrochemicals), while minimising their off-site migration and impact on the receiving environments. Cost-effective materials are needed to remove or detoxify contaminants in water, soil and sediments.

Our Response

Innovating to minimise on-site and off-site risks of agrochemicals

We are developing and applying tools and approaches with Australian and international agencies (e.g. UN agencies such as FAO and IAEA) and industry to better understand and manage/mitigate adverse impacts of agrochemicals on non-target organisms, including biota in soils and aquatic ecosystems.

We are working with rural industries and natural resource managers in the GBR catchments to develop novel and cost-effective approaches to minimise the off-site migration of pesticides and nutrients. We are evaluating the fate and effects of new chemicals that could substitute the currently used photosystem II herbicides, which have been detected in the GBR.

We are working with the chemical industry and regulatory agencies to develop and assess the new class of pesticides (nanopesticides and RNAi) to ensure they are efficacious as well as posing minimal risk to both on-site and off-site environments.

Our research outputs have been adopted by the research as well as natural resource management communities internationally:

  • risk indicators, such as Pesticide Impact Rating Index (PIRI) have been adopted in Latin America, Asia and Africa
  • there is a growing interest in our innovative work on management practices for pesticides in sugarcane in the GBR catchments and horticulture in the Mount Lofty Ranges
  • our proposed risk framework is helping the industry and regulatory agencies such as Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to facilitate the use of emerging technology of nanopesticides.

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