After years of negotiations between government and industry, a $4.7 million red witchweed eradication program is underway in North Queensland.
Across Australia, the only place red witchweed is known to exist is on six Mackay properties, where it was first discovered in 2013.
While it does not pose any risks to cane production, poses significant risks to other sectors — especially the grains sector.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources set up a National Management Group (NMG) more than a year ago to come up with the best plan to eradicate red witchweed and how the cost could be shared.
The NMG included the Federal Government, all the state governments and groups representing the grain, cane, cattle and other industries who finally came to agreements last year.
Biosecurity’s John Robertson said stage one of the process began in December and had involved using soybeans as a trap crop.
“What we do is put in false crops that stimulate germination of the red witch weed and stimulate the seeds,” Mr Robertson said.
“We plant those out whenever we see a germination of red witchweed, we make sure we spray it, kill it and record it and we have been doing surveillance every 10 to 14 years.”
Welcome relief for farmers left in limbo
It is good, it is really good… we know what is happening, we know it has been started.Neiola Vella
To see the eradication begin has been a welcome sight for Mackay cane farmer Neiola Vella and her family.
Their property was infected with the most red witchweed and the family was left in limbo for two years throughout the process while a plan was being formed.
Mrs Vella said it had been a stressful time for all of the farmers involved.
“It is good, it is really good … we know what is happening, we know it has been started,” she said.
“We’ve got a plan that we know, hopefully, in June 2018 we can start planting the paddocks again, so it has given us an end date.”
Since 2014, Mrs Vella said the Biosecurity Queensland restrictions had cost her tens of thousands of dollars in lost production.
However, she will now receive compensation for the next three years while her infected paddocks remain out of production.
There will still be some losses that cannot be recovered.
“The previous years [before eradication began] we have lost money because they could not give us answers on what to do so we had missed plantings,” she said.
“We lost productivity hours and so we have had a financial loss we cannot get back.”
However, Mrs Vella and her family remain positive about their future — without red witchweed.
“I am feeling confident that it will happen … you have to because if you are forever negative it will get you down.”
Source – ABC