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

Good farm hygiene helps biosecurity

February 6, 2015

Beth Bagley

Simple but essential practices such as cleaning the harvester and airseeder down before travelling between farms are part of standard farm hygiene practices to help prevent weeds and other pests from spreading in the Bagleys’ cropping enterprise near Northam in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt.

Beth and Rob Bagley farm two blocks about 30 kilometres apart at Northam and Toodyay and cleaning equipment before it moves from one property to another is fundamental to their biosecurity management.

The Bagleys employ contractors to apply post-emergent crop protection products and fertilisers, and prefer aerial applications to minimise vehicle traffic that could potentially bring in soil, pest and weed contaminants. Beth says contractors help reduce labour requirements and keep down their capital expenses. “We look for reputable contractors with current industry knowledge, who take pride in their work, use modern equipment and keep it clean and well maintained,” she says.

The Bagleys take particular care in the storage and handling of grain, adopting a ‘clean as you go’ approach to minimise loose grain on the ground.

“During seeding, when changing crop types, we clean the airseeder rollers and blow out the lines to prevent contaminating the next crop. And we put a tarp under the airseeder to collect any spilt grain, which can be bagged up.”

The silos and field bins are checked, cleaned and fumigated seasonally. Grain brought onto the farm is either registered certified seed or seed sourced from local reputable growers, which is then cleaned and observed for contaminants. Pickled seed and in-furrow and foliar fungicides help to protect crops from fungal diseases and insecticides are applied when necessary.

Since moving to Northam, the Bagleys have planted a 20-metre-wide tree buffer zone in and around their property, which has proven useful as a biosecurity zone to reduce the transfer of weeds from roadside verges onto their property. It also acts as a buffer for spray drift between neighbours.

They have biosecurity signs at property entrances to reinforce the importance of biosecurity to visitors, particularly as they often host experimental trials on their property.

As growers who have extended their agriculture knowledge through international farm study tours, the Bagleys are careful about what clothing and shoes are worn overseas. “We’ve left our shoes behind on occasion, just to make sure we wouldn’t be bringing back any unwanted diseases. When we get back we separate and immediately re-clean the clothes, shoes and suitcases we have taken overseas, just to make sure we eliminate any unseen risks,” Beth says.

For Beth and Rob, farm biosecurity is synonymous with farm hygiene. Just as good personal hygiene can help keep people disease-free and healthy, good farm hygiene has the same effect, protecting a farm, district, state and even Australia, from the effects of both known and unknown pests and diseases.

It is an approach Beth says she learned working with her parents on the family’s dryland broadacre farm in Beacon, WA. She still applies this today, influenced also by her nursing experience.

The Bagleys previously farmed in the Beacon and Wialki districts further north-east before relocating to Northam in the mid-1990s. Their property is 220 hectares, small by WA’s broadacre standards, but a standard size in the medium-rainfall region of the Avon Valley, one hour east of Perth. They share-farm another 280ha at nearby Toodyay, and the couple also work off-farm.

Beth says while they have experimented with a range of crops, such as barley, oaten hay, lupins, field peas, faba beans and chickpeas, their two key crops now are wheat and canola. They use Dalkeith clover as a break crop to help manage weeds and rebuild soil nitrogen, and run a small Dorper/Sussex flock to maintain firebreaks and paddocks, having recently sold off their Angus-cross cattle.

With a higher rainfall, Northam has different pest, disease and weed issues than those the Bagleys were familiar with in Beacon.

Initially, weeds were the most significant issue and they prioritised controlling silvergrass, Paterson’s curse, cape tulip and soursob with success. Across the district ryegrass and radish have now become a concern and brome grass is an emerging threat.

To keep herself informed about agriculture issues, Beth purchases relevant grain pest, weed and disease publications and attends workshops such as ChemCert, Farmsafe Australia field days and the Agribusiness Crop Updates in Perth.

Article by written by Jeff Russell and reproduced with the permission of GRDC