Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Farm response evolves with pests and seasons

June 3, 2011

Oodnadatta FarmsAs pest and disease threats evolve, so too do the biosecurity measures Hugh Ball implements as part of his farm contracting business at Oodnadatta Farms at Moree, in northern NSW, encompassing 18,000 hectares.

“Biosecurity is a continuing process that needs to be regularly updated and improved,” Hugh says.

“The threats, particularly the endemic ones, keep changing, depending on the weather, seasonal conditions and farm practices.

“As farmers we have to respond to that too. Biosecurity is ever evolving, not something you can do once, and then forget.”

The farming operations include both summer and winter grain crops, and cotton. They keep few stock on the property and all internal fences have been removed to simplify cropping and weed management. It is much easier to eliminate the green bridge, and its potential to harbour pests and disease between seasons when there are no fencelines to get in the way.

At a farm level, biosecurity is about managing or keeping endemic pests off the property, although he also keeps an eye out for anything exotic that could be brought in, for example, by visitors and farm workers, some of whom travel or originate from overseas.

Hugh says improving farm hygiene is the simplest and most effective biosecurity strategy he has implemented. That includes ensuring people’s boots and clothes as well as vehicles and other farm machinery coming onto and leaving the farm are clean, as well as keeping areas around sheds, buildings and storages tidy and weed free.

The hardest part, he says, is ensuring his staff understand the importance of good hygiene and are proactive.

“I encourage them to be aware of anything unusual, and to ensure they investigate what is causing it.” Hygiene requirements are incorporated into a comprehensive induction manual for all staff and contractors working at Oodnadatta Farms. Staff uniforms, signage, a central farm office and single main point of entry to control the traffic entry on the property are all part of the protocols.

“We have a big sign about 300 metres from the road entrance which has contact details, OH&S, farm hygiene information. We put a lot of thought into where to place the sign. It is near the office building, rather than at the front gate, because the office is where people actually stop and get a chance to read it before being directed to the office, where we also have a visitor register.”

Hugh focuses on getting each and every stage of cropping operations ‘right’. He says effort preparing the ground and growing the right varieties, with the right inputs and then harvesting the grain can all be lost if the grain’s then not stored properly. Failure at any point wastes the effort put into all of the previous stages.

“But if you do things properly all the way through, there are benefits in terms of both time and money.”

Effective product management is an important part of Hugh’s operation. Bought seed for sowing is certified and visually inspected for unwanted pests and weeds. All grain storages are cleaned prior to use and silos have aeration units for cooling and drying grain. Silos are sealed and tested annually for sealing. This is important for effective phosphine fumigation and to reduce the risk of phosphine resistance development by stored grain insects.

Weed control is also an essential part of his strategy. Weedseeker technology helps to locate weeds in fallows and target herbicide applications, which helps to keep chemical costs down. Herbicide resistant barnyard grass is an issue in the district, and Hugh regularly rotates herbicides to manage this and tests barnyard grass on the property for resistance. Crop rotation is the key strategy for disease control.

His biosecurity systems are continuing to evolve and he has adapted farm hygiene protocols from the cotton best management practices guidelines for his grain cropping. Hugh’s next steps include an audit to highlight areas for possible improvement, and a review of operational guidelines for the farm contracting business he runs as well as for additional contractors coming onto the property.

Dr Louise Rossiter, Grains Biosecurity Officer with Industry and Investment NSW and Plant Health Australia says Hugh’s attention to farm hygiene illustrates how the simplest measures can be highly effective.

“Good farm hygiene is an inexpensive practice that everyone can do with very real benefits in terms of reducing the risk of introducing an unwanted pest or weed onto a farm” she says. “This is particularly important when you are operating a contracting business, with people and machinery movement between properties”.

The Biosecurity Manual for Grain Producers outlines other simple practices that farmers and contractors can incorporate into their grain operation to help protect themselves and the industry from unwanted endemic and exotic pests. Included is a self assessment to help them identify their strengths and where improvements may be needed.

The Grains Farm Biosecurity Program is funded by Grain Producers Australia and managed by Plant Health Australia.

Source: This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 edition of Ground Cover magazine.