[ASC-media] Media release: livestock v the invaders

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Oct 30 23:45:33 CET 2006

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management 

Media Release 06/13

October 31, 2006


Australia's $13 billion livestock sector is preparing a fresh assault on a menace that costs it an estimated $2.4 billion every year.

The livestock industry is joining the proposed new Invasive Plants CRC in a bid to combat the spreading impact of weeds in pastures - and to head off new pest incursions before they take hold.

CEO of the Weeds CRC, Dr Rachel McFadyen, says the decision of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to become a major partner in the proposed new CRC reflects the very serious impact which invasive plants have on grazing profitability in both improved and native pastures.

MLA's Wayne Hall said that a recent survey of livestock producers found that they rated weeds as their fifth most important research target.

"Weeds represent a huge cost to the industry, both in lost of production and in management. They lead to lower stocking rates and often mean land has to be locked up for control measures to be taken," he said.

"It is critical that we get on top both of existing weeds - such as prickly acacia, parkinsonia and bellyache bush - and eradicate new invasions before they can become established and threaten the industry."

The focus of the new Invasive Plants CRC will be on developing low cost weed control methods, particularly biocontrol, says program leader Dr Tony Grice.

Biocontrol has proved one of the most effective solutions to weed problems in Australia over time.  A recent study found that 14 successful biocontrol programs have between them delivered benefits totalling $10 billion over the past 103 years.

"We believe that several of today's major pasture weeds are good candidates for biological control, but there are a number of steps we have to go through to be sure.

"First we have to survey their natural pests and diseases in their native environment.  Then we have to check these things are specific to the target weed and cannot affect Australian native species or economically important plants. And finally we have to maximise the chances that the agent will be effective in the Australian setting."

A major challenge for both scientists and graziers lies in the new trend by suburban Australia to 'drought-proof' its gardens by planting a wide range of introduced grasses that can survive with minimal watering.

"Many of these grasses - the pennisetum group (feathertop grasses) for example - are low palatability grasses that you wouldn't want in your pasture.

"Some of these have already escaped and become established in the Australian environment and the challenge is to eradicate them before they get away and cause major damage."

Another group are the nassellas - relatives of serrated tussock and Chilean needle grass - which have also been widely introduced by the garden industry.

"The other thing we have to bear in mind is that the livestock industries look after a third of the Australian continent.  Graziers are in the front line when it comes to protecting our environment - and their efforts should be strongly supported," Dr Grice says.

"Keeping weeds down, especially in the pastoral zone and extensive grazing lands, is a real benefit to the native landscape and its species."

With rainfall in grain growing areas liable to become more erratic under climate change, the area of Australia used for grazing may even expand - and effective weed control will be a vital part in its management, he says.   

More information:
Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO, Weeds CRC, 0409 263 817
Wayne Hall, Meat & Livestock Australia, 07 3620 5228
Dr Tony Grice, Weeds CRC and CSIRO, 07 4753 8543
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6693, 0429 830 366

Website: www.weeds.crc.org.au
Images of weeds are available from rita.reitano at adelaide.edu.au

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