Western Australian grain grower Ron Creagh says biosecurity makes sense from both a business and a farming perspective, and he incorporates sensible precautions into everyday practices.
Ron, with his wife Robyn and son Kim, farms 13,000 hectares in the low-rainfall shires of Trayning and Nungarin in WA’s central wheatbelt. It is a family business that has celebrated more than 100 years of operation since its establishment by Ron’s grandparents in 1909.
Typically, Ron crops 10,000ha made up principally of wheat and lesser plantings of canola, barley and lupins. The Creaghs also run 4000 Merino breeding ewes and shear about 8000 sheep. The flock has had Dohne bloodlines incorporated to enhance meat production.
Biosecurity has been top of mind for Ron since the late 1960s, when he observed the devastation of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak during a study tour of the UK. It was a horrifying experience that made him intent on good farm biosecurity at home.
Ron’s commitment to biosecurity extends beyond his own property. He has been on the Agriculture Protection Board of WA since the mid-1990s.
After the outbreak of lupin anthracnose in 1996 he became an inaugural member of the Grain Guard program and has also served as Grain Guard chairman.
He has been a member of the Biosecurity Council of WA and Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA), and recently returned to the Grain Guard committee as a GIWA representative.
For Ron, biosecurity begins at the farm gate, literally, with farm biosecurity signs that direct all visitors to the property to the house or to contact Ron before they do anything else. This, Ron says, has helped to instil a degree of visitor discipline.
“It makes visitors pay attention. They know straight away that we don’t want people driving around our property without our knowledge,” he says.
“We only use farm vehicles to get around so that new pests aren’t brought in. We never go onto another area of the property without first cleaning down all the machinery thoroughly. Investing in a good-quality air compressor and cleaning systems pays off in the long run.”
The other key biosecurity practice for Ron is making sure he has clean seed for cropping. Ron will only buy seed from a certified seller and when buying in a new variety he makes sure he gets seed certificates.
“I was astounded at how few growers actually ask for seed certification notices. Most simply take it on trust that the seed is clean. That’s a risk I’m not prepared to take and others shouldn’t either.”
While he recognises there can be savings in grower-to-grower trading of seed for new varieties, Ron maintains that it is a safer practice to source seed through certified sellers. “I’d rather take an extra year in the bulking-up phase with a smaller amount of seed from a certified source than take the risk from getting larger quantities over the fence,” he says.
Ron is similarly cautious about livestock coming onto the property. He only buys from reputable suppliers or breeders and any new animals are isolated for a quarantine period.
Keeping an eye on new animals and on his crops protects the business. “I’m well aware of the dangers that exotic pests pose because I worked on the Industry Biosecurity Plan for the Grains Industry years ago. You need to be checking and monitoring everything as part of your day-to-day work,” Ron says. “Skeleton weed, for example, is a problem around this area so we’re always keeping a look out for it.”
He is even more concerned about pests that would cause market-access issues for Australia’s grain exports. “Khapra beetle and karnal bunt come to mind as pests that would cause havoc to Australian growers.”
“Just the mobility of people now in the farming industry is a cause for concern. The employment of seasonal labour in the district sees visitors and workers coming in from places such as the UK and New Zealand. It all increases the risks that something will be brought in.”
Looking ahead, Ron is optimistic about the future of the farm because he has passed on all of his good farm-management practices to his son, who he says also sees the sense in building biosecurity into everyday practices.
More information: Jeff Russell, WA grains biosecurity officer, 0447 851 801
Acknowledgement: Grains Research and Development Corporation