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

Future grains leader emphasises biosecurity practices on-farm

July 13, 2012

John Alexander in fieldJohn Alexander’s future in farming looks bright and he’s adamant that being proactive when it comes to farm biosecurity is a key factor in successful farming.

John grew up on his family property at Jimbour (Dalby), in the northern Darling Downs region of Queensland. With a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Queensland, he and his wife took over the family farm and earthmoving enterprise in 2007.

He has already been identified as a future grains leader, winning the Queensland Grains Emerging Leader Award (sponsored by GrainCorp) in Toowoomba in December 2011. The award recognises a significant contribution by an individual aged 18 to 35.

John says the key to his success on the land is that “he runs a small business that specialises in farming”. He farms 660 hectare of prime Darling Downs country, with roughly 620 hectares under cultivation. There is a mixture of lighter soils (with a focus on strategic continuous rotation) and heavy black cracking clays (for high value, high yielding crops). In summer he grows sorghum and mung beans, and in winter it’s chickpeas, barley and wheat.  Cotton too, but only when prices reach $600/bale/ha.

“Soil is the most important asset of the farm, so we must keep building it. It’s one of the reasons behind the heavy pulse rotations,” he said.

He plans to use wheat as a trial this year to help with control of a local weed, Feathertop Rhodes grass, to test an in-crop herbicide. Otherwise he will use herbicides and crop competition to keep it under control.

“Farm biosecurity is becoming increasingly important in many farming industries. Farmers need to be proactive in pest or disease prevention and management,” he said.

He believes that many see the value in adopting biosecurity practices, but it often comes down to having the time available to get a multitude of tasks done on a regular basis.

Major biosecurity activities on John’s property include thoroughly cleaning harvesting machinery post-harvest and ensuring that silos are cleaned inside and out prior to each harvest.  As the former owner of an earthmoving business, John is only too aware of the biosecurity risks of moving equipment from one property to the next and wash-downs were strictly adhered to.

John sees biosecurity risks around his area, and the use of phosphine by growers storing grain on-farm concerns him.  “With the label for phosphine now changed to sealed silos only, there are very few options for control of insects once grain is in the silo and if we use phosphine we risk insect resistance and liability for any contamination,” he said.  “We need more research to tackle the issue and develop more cost-effective options for the majority of us who have unsealed silos.”

“I like to cooperate with chemical companies, agronomists and agricultural researchers with on-farm trials to improve farming methods and practices. But this too increases the number of people visiting the farm and the inherent biosecurity risks associated with people movement.”

One suggested biosecurity mitigation strategy that helps with visitors is to keep a visitor record.  In the event of an incursion, the source of the pest or disease could be tracked helping to limit its spread.

John’s closing words are that “farming is a business”.  He has both long- and short-term goals for his farm, which include increasing production and area, consistent profitability, improvements in soil health, better monitoring and control of weeds, using organic fertilisers and looking for niche markets and crops.