Farm biosecurity wins prizes and premiums

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A focus on on farm hygiene and weed control has helped Russell Grundy access high-value markets in China with his sorghum.

PHOTO: Kym McIntyre

Adopting good farm biosecurity practices is “just a given” for Russell and Cora Grundy, who farm at ‘The Willows’ near Jondaryan, Queensland. 

Since taking full responsibility for 478 hectares of farm operations from Russell’s parents, Russell and Cora have focused on keeping their farming as free from pests and weeds as possible.

They have found that this not only reduces costs, but also improves yields and allows them to access premium markets. At the same time, they have continued to win crop competitions.

“Our Shepherd barley, which yielded 5.75 tonne per hectare with only two irrigations in a very tough season, was awarded second prize in the Royal Agricultural Society irrigated barley competition,” Mr Grundy says.

They also won first prize for their dryland crop in the local Oakey Show field crop competition.

“These crops were judged not only on yield but were also awarded points for being weed and pest-free.”

The Grundys’ farm enterprise comprises the main farm, ‘The Willows’, and another 100ha farm, ‘Grenif’. Cleaning down machinery before moving between paddocks is a priority to stop weeds such as nutgrass, summer grass, fleabane and feathertop Rhodes grass from spreading between the properties.

“Rotation planting also provides pest and weed control. We like to plant two winter crops and long fallow through to two summer crops,” Mr Grundy says.

“After the second summer crop we use a strategic cultivation to make sure the paddock is clean going into the next winter crop. It is a system devised by our department extension officer many years ago and seems to work well for our farm,” Mr Grundy says.

A recent change has been to introduce tram tracking. This has meant changing some well-established strips and machinery, and they are now set up for all operations except harvesting.

“It is a bit too early to tell if there are improvements in soil structure, but one bonus is safer spraying as the strips are wider and there is less of a problem with spray drift.”

Mr Grundy has an agronomist check the chickpeas and mungbeans, but does most of the weed and pest surveillance of the wheat, barley and sorghum crops himself. If he sees anything unusual he first speaks to an agronomist and then consults a specialist if it still cannot be identified.

Practising good farm biosecurity has not only paid-off for Russell in delivering pest and weed-free crops, it has also opened access to premium markets.

During the very dry summer of 2013-14, they were able to grow an irrigated sorghum crop on four irrigations.

“It was worth it though,” Mr Grundy says. “We were able to supply grain to LGL Commodities at Pittsworth, in Queensland, which was exported to China for the Baijiu market.” (Baijiu is a Chinese distilled spirit made from sorghum.)

Tyson Hosie from LGL Commodities says: “From a marketing point of view, on-farm biosecurity and hygiene is paramount in accessing these higher-priced Asian markets.”

This grain is destined for the Chinese Baijiu market and, while the demand is very high, so are the quality requirements.

“To access this market, growers need to be particularly careful about their farm hygiene, on-farm storage and insect management. As it is used for human consumption, it is important that the grain is treated to control insects using only gas fumigants that leave no residue,” Mr Hosie says.

All of the paperwork is also kept up to date: “This is also an important factor, as buyers are increasingly looking for traceability of grain back to the farm,” he says.

“Unfortunately, some growers have not had their farm hygiene and storage practices up to scratch and as a result we have not been able to take their grain.”

To secure the market in the long term, it is important that Australia maintains its reputation as a good-quality supplier.

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