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

Angus Woods

Angus Woods leads biosecurity practice

Thinking about biosecurity in day-to-day farming operations has been vital to the success of the 12,000 hectares owned and operated by Queensland grain grower and 2010 Australian Biosecurity Farmer of the Year finalist, Angus Woods.

The on-farm biosecurity practices adopted by Mr Woods and his family provide effective models for other Australian grain growers to follow. When combined, these practices create an effective framework – one that demonstrates how farm hygiene and biosecurity measures can be implemented into daily activities of large farming enterprises without compromising efficiency.

“In our business, biosecurity activities are not a big deal, they’re just good practice. Because crops are targeted for seed and other high value markets, we recognised the importance of protecting our property from pests and diseases,” says Mr Woods.

The 2010 Australian Biosecurity Farmer of the Year Awards, proudly supported by Plant Health Australia (PHA) and Animal Health Australia (AHA) under the Farm Biosecurity initiative, promoted an up-to-the-minute, positive image of farmers while recognising producers who inspire other farmers and encourage investment in Australian agriculture.

Angus’ dedication to maintaining good biosecurity practices on-farm highlights the fact that biosecurity makes good business sense. It is hoped that other farmers will follow Angus’ lead and see the value of implementing good biosecurity practices, while finding out more about what can be done to manage pest, disease and weed threats.

Mr Woods’ company, Woods Pastoral, is the farming component of the larger, Australian agribusiness company, The Woods Group. Woods Pastoral specialises in the production of cereal and pulse crops into high value markets such as seed for sowing, containerised exports and stock feed. The main crops grown are wheat, sorghum, chickpeas and barley.

Woods Pastoral is comprised of four key farms located in the highly productive and premium grain growing region of Southern Queensland, just 45km north of Goondiwindi.

“Having a large operation spread across the four properties means we often share machinery and use quite a few different contractors when we plant and harvest the crops,” says Mr Woods.

“We recognised that the size of the enterprise could potentially threaten its biosecurity, via the contamination of seeds and the introduction of pests and diseases on equipment for example.”

In order to safeguard his properties from pests and diseases, Mr Woods developed and implemented his own biosecurity initiative – a Full Traceability and Quality Assurance (FTQA) System.

Mr Woods’ FTQA System involves keeping accurate, up-to-date records and adhering to various protocols for the movement of products on and off the farm. By using existing QA procedures and enlisting an auditor, Mr Woods was able to combine his innovative methods with business QA systems already being used by Woods Pastoral. Procedures previously adopted by the trucking arm of the business, which involved recording delivery documents and product movement, proved particularly useful in developing the FTQA System.

“The better our records are kept, the more likely it is that we will be able to restrict the areas quarantined and deal with incursions quickly and efficiently. This in turn minimises the likelihood of an incursion impacting on other parts of the property or business,” says Mr Woods.

“Any contamination of products or exotic pest incursions could impact on our ability to satisfy the quality requirements of the markets we supply. They could also result in us having to quarantine operations on certain parts of the property.”

With winter crop harvest high on the agenda, November and December are busy months at Woods Pastoral.  It is expected that at any one time, eight headers operating 16 to 18 hours per day will be required to harvest the wheat, chickpea and barley crops.  When one considers the eight to nine road trains that will also be required to cart the grain, maintaining good biosecurity practices and adhering to the standards outlined in the FTQA System takes on a whole new significance.

After winter crops have been harvested, the paddocks will be inspected for weeds that may have established and spread during the growing season. This assessment allows plans to be developed to safeguard future crops, based on the relevant information gathered surrounding weed infestations and soil moisture profiles.

Winter crop harvesting is only half of the equation. There is also a busy summer crop program to consider.  Grain sorghum is the main summer crop grown and can be planted anytime from early September through to January.  Woods Pastoral is operated by four full time staff and contractors who perform a range of tasks including maintenance, harvesting, planting and crop inspection. Mr Woods employs an independent agricultural consultant to assist with cropping and rotation programs and also adopts various modern farming practices, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and weed-seeker technology.

According to Mr Woods, one of the major challenges in implementing his FTQA System was educating staff and contractors of the processes involved.

“The training of staff is ongoing and managers need to take a hands-on approach to ensuring new staff are inducted into the procedures for cleaning down equipment. Because of the amount of land farmed by Woods Pastoral, contractors play a vital role in its operation, while also potentially posing a significant contamination risk.

“This is why we implemented an induction process for our contractors. This process includes providing them with instructions on which roads to use to ensure vehicles are clean, showing them where wash down stations are and how to use them, and letting them know how to notify appropriate people when vehicles enter the property,” says Mr Woods.

“Everyone makes mistakes on-farm sometimes. The strength of the FTQA System is that it gives you the ability to go back and see what happened when mistakes are made and to work out why they happened so you can avoid making them in the future,” says Mr Woods.

Kym McIntyre, Grains Biosecurity Officer with PHA and Biosecurity Queensland (DEEDI), supports the initiative and professionalism shown at Woods Pastoral. She says other biosecurity practices adopted by Woods include observing good farm hygiene practices, ensuring signage at the front gate clearly indicates the requirements on entering the property, and making sure that during field days vehicles are not driven across paddocks and wash baths are provided for all participants.

“Once you have a good biosecurity system in place you can be much more confident in the success of your business.”