Key points from the Skeleton Weed Program Review
- The Skeleton Weed Program has significantly suppressed the spread of the weed in the Western Australian (WA) wheatbelt and, therefore, minimised the potential impacts to the WA grain/seed/hay industry if the weed was to become widespread. The removal of properties from the ‘infested list’ each year provides clear evidence that the weed can be eradicated at a property-level; however, the weed is unlikely to be eradicated from WA.
- Although the geographic area in which skeleton weed can be found has slowly expanded and the number of affected properties is increasing, the total number of hectares of farmland infested by skeleton weed is low – and infestations are generally well below levels that can affect crop production.
- Without the Skeleton Weed Program, modelling predicts an area of up to 265 000 hectares may become infested (compare that to the current infested area of 5260 hectares).
- There are a number of intangible benefits that accrue to industry and local communities because of the Skeleton Weed Program.
- It is a large program, averaging $4.5 million per year; however, each dollar spent generates approximately $1.30 of landholder benefits. A common characteristic of weed control programs is that the rate of infestation growth is relatively low, so damage avoided as a result of the program’s activities takes time to accumulate. The Skeleton Weed Program, in its current format, has been in place for almost 20 years. Consequently, if expenditure remains constant, the program's benefit-cost ratio will continue to grow every year and, after 30 years, each dollar spent will generate approximately $5 of landholder benefits.
- Significant differences in opinion exist amongst the farming community as to the value of the Skeleton Weed Program to the industry. This is attributed to varying levels of awareness and understanding about skeleton weed and its potential impacts on the WA grain/seed/hay industry, and the role that the Skeleton Weed Program plays in minimising these impacts.
- There will be little benefit to the WA grain/seed/hay industry of cutting its investment (or increasing its investment) in the Skeleton Weed Program without having appropriate information and tools in place:
- For landholders to ensure all skeleton weed plants will not set seed at the property-level, in the event of a reduced level of program activity
- To better understand the economic, social and environmental consequences of changes to the level of industry investment, via the Industry Funding Scheme, in skeleton weed control; and
- Communicate the ‘what, why and how’ of skeleton weed and the program to the industry.
Next steps for the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme
The Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee endorse the recommendations made through the independent Skeleton Weed Program review and agreed to the following:
- A comprehensive review of the Skeleton Weed Program that investigates the biological, economic, social and environmental impacts of both the weed and the program will be undertaken within the next two years.
- A scientific advisory group will be established to provide strategic advice on research and development with regard to new/alternative control and surveillance methods and technologies as these may improve efficiencies/effectiveness.
- A well-constructed awareness-raising program will be undertaken. This is essential for constructive and informed industry engagement on the direction of the Industry Funding Scheme.