Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.07.2005

Contractors in the front line of weeds battle

Photo of contractor using a logbook

By Alec Nicol

[Photo by Cindy Hanson: Crucial role: in the battle against weeds, Tasmanian contractors are using a simple logbook that could be the model for a national scheme.

Concerned by the incidence of weed seeds arriving in feed grain, agricultural contractors in Tasmania have developed their own accreditation scheme to help control the spread of weeds.

Their initiative has already identified and eradicated small patches of introduced weeds, through a self-imposed policy that even extends to refusing to harvest heavily-infested crops.

Since 2003 more than half of the 130 members who comprise Agricultural Contractors of Tasmania (ACT) have undertaken workshops covering regulations, weed identification and client relationships. Twelve have had their operations audited by Quarantine Tasmania, with others expected to follow suit.

The impetus for the scheme has come from a cooperative relationship between contractors and the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.

Since 1999 Tasmanian weed legislation has specified detailed management plans for individual weed species. These range from eradication to containment, and have been based on keeping weeds out in the first place.

So alarm bells rang when ACT chairman Doug French saw saffron thistle, Bathurst burr and spiny emex seeds in a consignment of feed lupins.

"Despite the legislation, I was bagging them up for a merchant and they were heading all over the island as stock feed. Weeds are easy to spread, hard to get rid of, and you know who gets the blame."

Mr French contacted Cindy Hanson, a departmental weeds specialist, and they began developing a simple, practical system of accrediting agricultural contractors as the people who could play a crucial role in limiting the spread of weeds.

Tasmania imports about 100,000 tonnes of feed grain a year and it is a significant source of weed seed importation. Ms Hanson recalls one year when a helicopter pilot travelling over country where grain had been fed out reported seeing Patterson"s Curse in a neat figure-of-eight.

When confronted by a dirty paddock to harvest, ACT members now notify the farmer and the department. Farmers" fear of quarantine has been overcome by a commonsense working relationship with the department, and a thorough equipment clean-down process.

"In some instances we"ll work around a dirty patch and in others we"ve declined to harvest at all," says Mr French.

The accreditation scheme is based on a simple logbook and the adoption of realistic clean-down practices based on the regimes practised by Tasmania"s leading contractors.

While growers have yet to noticeably favour accredited contractors, Mr French notes that more and more grain buyers are asking for a vendor declaration on weeds: "If you have to sign one of those, you"re not going to just let anyone with a header on to the place."

For more information: Cindy Hanson, 03 6336 5429, cindy.hanson@dpiwe.tas.gov.au;
Doug French, 03 6397 3220, dajfrench@bigpond.com