Professional approach to farm biosecurity

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By Catherine Norwood

For WA grain grower Rod Birch, biosecurity is not an ‘out there’ issue; it is integrated into every aspect of his operations at Catalina Farms, near Coorow in WA’s northern wheatbelt.

From the signs on the farm gate and a single point of entry for reporting all visitors to the property, to cleaning silos for grain storage and marketing – keeping pest threats off his farm protects his crop and adds to his bottom line.

As an executive member of the Grain Industry Association of WA, Mr Birch is a supporter of the National Grains Biosecurity Program. Coordinated through Plant Health Australia, the program has been designed to raise the profile of biosecurity and improve on-farm practices.

“Other industries have high standards that are mostly driven by consumers. Our grains industry needs to follow suit to protect our businesses from unwanted pests and maintain market access,” Mr Birch says. He believes practising good farm biosecurity should be integral to any quality assurance program and will help to differentiate Australian grain to increasingly discerning buyers.

Mr Birch predominantly crops wheat, barley, canola and lupins, and while he uses an agronomist for advice and to check the health of his crops, he also regularly monitors them himself for key pest threats. He is constantly on the lookout for the unusual, which may represent a new exotic threat. His biosecurity efforts also directly address more seasonal pests at this time of year, such as stripe rust and aphids.

Early detection enables early response and the best possible chance for eradication of serious pests and diseases before they get out of hand.

Catalina Farms is kept meticulously clean to minimise opportunities for pests and disease to establish; sheds, silos and laneways are all kept free of weeds and farm equipment is regularly washed down. Mr Birch says fungal infections alone can reduce yields by 20 per cent, depending on the season. “It only makes sense to minimise this risk,” he says and in doing so, he also keeps his chemical costs down.
Staff play a role in the operation’s biosecurity surveillance and management. “We make all staff aware of hygiene practices when they begin working here and have a farm hygiene protocol in the staff tea room as a reminder of basic farm hygiene requirements.” For instance, all grains spills must be cleaned up immediately to reduce the risk of attracting vermin or stored grain insects.

All staff members working at Catalina Farms are provided with uniforms bearing the company logo for identification while working on-farm, which helps to reduce the risk of pests brought in on clothing from other areas. They also receive relevant training, including the use of chemicals, to ensure the right chemicals are used on the right crops and that grain is residue-free and safe for consumption.

“We also don’t allow trucks on to paddocks. All our contractors know this and we have put in additional laneways to cater for this. There is a specific entrance for trucks, and all visitors to the property are required to report when arriving to ensure they are not travelling over paddocks."

In the Coorow region, crops will soon be haying off and Mr Birch expects to start harvest in November.
“All the equipment we use is cleaned with high pressure air and water hoses well in advance, to make sure there’s no potential for contamination. The silos are cleaned to make sure they are free of insects or vermin and the area around them is clear of weeds. We start now so we won’t be caught out by an early harvest,” Mr Birch says.

Lisa Sherriff, grains biosecurity officer with the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA, and Plant Health Australia, says the Catalina Farms biosecurity program is first rate. Many of the measures Rod Birch has introduced are inexpensive and in the long-run will save him considerable money.

“There are many small steps growers can take to improve their biosecurity. It’s more about establishing procedures, like using certified seed or having visitors report to the farm office. It is something that should be integrated into, and adds value to, other aspects of farm management,” says Ms Sherriff.

GRDC Research Code NPB00011
More information: Jo Slattery, 02 6215 7700, email; www.grdc.com.au/NPB00011

GRDC Project Code NPB00011

Region West