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

Innovative farmer switched-on to farm biosecurity

June 1, 2012

Shaun Nolan in tractorShaun Nolan, winner of the 2011 Queensland Grains Innovation Award, says that as a grain grower, he has an important role to play in protecting his farm and the entire grains industry from biosecurity threats.

Shaun is from a family partnership that encompasses grain and forage crops, a cattle breeding and fattening enterprise, and even a date palm and bottle tree plantation.

His philosophy is to do everything as well as he possibly can, from the timing of planting, spraying, early harvesting of the grain, to drying and storing grain, and marketing strategies.

Shaun also tries to add value wherever possible. Through a number of innovative practices, such as installing GPS-based control traffic farming, replacing fertiliser with animal manure and installing grain storage, aeration and drying facilities, he’s managed to increase the property’s turnover considerably.

After graduating from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Rural Science, Shaun worked with Queensland Cotton as a sales agronomist and then headed home to the family property at Roma.

The family grows wheat, oats and chickpeas as winter crops, and sorghum, forage sorghum and sunflowers as summer crops, on a 60:40 split. Shaun says: “We choose the crop mixes on an annual basis to best manage disease and weed risks. The split between forage and grain crops depends on expected income from the livestock enterprises.”

The business has around 1,300 steers and 450 breeding cows. Hay and silage is produced on-farm and Shaun uses his own grain when finishing cattle, minimising the risks of introducing weeds and diseases with stockfeed.

Shaun considers biosecurity at every point in farm decision-making.  He admits it can be time consuming and sometimes expensive to implement good farm biosecurity practices, but believes it’s worth it.  “Farm machinery that is used off-farm leaves clean and returns clean,” he said. “The only feed that is bought in is cottonseed, which is guaranteed to be free of weed seed at purchase”.

The Nolans place high value on their ability to produce Ascochyta-free chickpea crops. To minimise the risk of introducing Ascochyta blight, the Nolan’s on-farm biosecurity practices include no ‘foreign’ vehicles on their farms.

The most problematic diseases for them are Botrytis in chickpeas and Fusarium in sorghum because they can be difficult to prevent and control. “I don’t worry too much about other diseases that I can readily control with chemical treatments” he said.

Shaun is concerned about declining resources for monitoring programs for high risk exotic pest and disease species.  “Biosecurity becomes increasingly important when protecting Australia’s clean, green image and overseas market access,” he said. “Farming must be sustainable in the long-term as well as an enjoyable and rewarding career for Australia’s up-and-coming generation of younger farmers.”

On his own property there are other routine biosecurity practices that they could implement but Shaun’s current priorities are repairs to infrastructure damage after flooding earlier this year and winter crop planting.

Shaun says that each biosecurity practice should be embedded in everyday farm management, reducing the risk of spreading any pest. “Don’t put your livelihood at risk by neglecting farm biosecurity.”