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The pandemic has taught people more about biosecurity with measures such as movement restrictions, contact tracing, and proof of vaccination to reduce the transmission of the virus.
Agriculture Victoria Grains Biosecurity Officer Jim Moran said these same measures also apply to good farm biosecurity at harvest time.
The movement of grain harvest contractors between farming regions can spread diseases, pests and weeds through soil and plant matter found on clothing, vehicles, machinery and grain handling equipment.
“While you’re confirming your contractors’ vaccination status this harvest, why not ask a few more questions relating to their understanding of farm biosecurity while working at your property?” Mr Moran said.
“This will ensure productivity on your property and minimise the risk of any pest, weed or disease entering and establishing itself on your property.
“Harvest contractors provide valuable services and are very professional in the way they go about their business.
“But farmers must be aware of the biosecurity risks that moving from farm to farm can pose and mitigate those risks with some assertive investigation and action.”
Six questions for your harvest contractors
There are six questions you should ask a contractor before they drive onto your paddocks.
Their answers allow you to evaluate the level of risk posed to you and your property and ensures best practice biosecurity management practices.
Where did you last work?
It’s important to know where the contractor last worked so you can investigate if any pest, disease or weed issues present in that area pose a risk to your property.
Any paperwork that can be provided to document movements and clean-down times is valuable evidence in assisting with preventing the spread of pests to your property.
Did any properties have any hard-to-kill or pesticide resistant weeds, insects and diseases?
Ask if the contractor noticed any specific threats present on the previous property, such as any hard-to-kill or herbicide resistant weeds, any persistent outbreaks of disease or insect damage.
By asking what the potential risks are, you can insist on a thorough clean before commencing operations and to subsequently look out for anything unusual appearing in your paddocks in case something gets through.
Vigilant surveillance of paddocks will allow for quick eradication of any new pest, disease or weed.
What crops were harvested?
If the contractor was harvesting the same crop type, or a crop similar to yours, they could be accidentally carrying pests into your crop with their vehicles and equipment.
Alternatively, if they were harvesting a different crop, you don’t want other grain types contaminating your harvest.
After you have asked what the potential problems might be, it’s also important to check what has been done to remove residues from the previous property during clean down.
When, how and where did you clean down?
Soil and plant material can carry weed-seeds and pests when left on tyres, radiator grilles, undercarriages, engine bays, wheel arches, floor mats and work boots
Insist that your contractor cleans their vehicles and equipment before they arrive on the property and seek evidence.
Grain handling equipment also needs to be inspected to ensure no risky plant, soil and other contaminating material is lodged in augers, fans, belts, sieves, lifters, header fronts, bins, trailers etc.
Make sure you thoroughly inspect any machinery or vehicles that are going to be working on your farm and remember that if you are not satisfied with their cleanliness, you can direct them to your vehicle clean-down station.
If cleaning on-farm, closely monitor areas where the debris is blown, washed and drained for anything unusual.
Did you use a desiccant dust to eliminate stored grain pests?
Even a small amount of grain residue left behind in equipment between harvests can allow pests to breed and go on to infest freshly harvested grain.
As it is difficult and time consuming to remove all grain residue from harvest equipment without a major overhaul, it is recommended to run a diatomaceous earth or other chemical structural treatment through the harvester and grain handling equipment.
Get advice from local agricultural chemical suppliers on which chemical treatments are best for your situation.
How do you dispose excess grain?
It’s important that grain is not disposed inappropriately between farm and storage. Unmonitored dumped grain can germinate and attract pests and diseases which build up and spread into farm production zones.
Any ungerminated grain will attract birds, mice and larger animals. Illegal and inappropriate dumping of grain is considered littering as well as a potential biosecurity risk to the grains’ industry.
For more farm biosecurity information, free Biosecurity gate signs and farm biosecurity booklets contact Agriculture Victoria on 136 186.
Acknowledgement: Based on an original article by Jim Moran, Grains Farm Biosecurity Officer, Agriculture Victoria.