Skeleton Weed Program 2018–2019: Report to grain growers

Page last updated: Monday, 9 December 2019 - 12:20pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Report of the achievements, performance and budget details of the 2018-2019 Skeleton Weed Program. Foreword from Rohan Day, Chairman of the Grains, Seed and Hay Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee.

Foreword

On behalf of my fellow committee members, I am pleased to present this report outlining the delivery and outcomes of the 2018/19 Skeleton Weed Program to the contributors of the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme.

The efforts of the program staff, Local Action Groups and affected growers to deliver the program across the Wheatbelt is commended, with more than 400 000 hectares surveyed and more than 4000 hectares treated.

Although the area of land affected by skeleton weed has increased, there is no doubt that the Program is slowing the spread and, therefore, benefiting our industry as a whole.

This would not be possible without the support of West Australian grain/seed/hay growers.

Grower contributions to the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme have enabled a comprehensive program to be delivered – surveillance, treatments, one-on-one support and advice, community engagement, education and extension, as well as research and development. However, we must all remember that we each have a role to play in managing the pests and diseases on our property; and that the Industry Funding Scheme is there to help growers to do that.

The Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee approved a number of changes to the program for the 2018/19 financial year to better support growers with skeleton weed infestations and, therefore, try to better control the spread. We will continue to monitor these and any future changes to make sure they are helping to achieve the program aim of preventing seed set and movement of skeleton weed and, where possible, to eradicate it from properties.

Thank you all for your contribution to this important work.

Rohan Day
Chairman
Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry
Funding Scheme Management Committee
30 June 2019 

Review

The Skeleton weed Operational “season” for 2018/19 runs from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019 and Operational Activities in the Annual Report are written to coincide with this timeframe.

The Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Management Committee (GSHIMC) believes the current program is delivering the best value for the funding provided and is achieving the Project Outcomes of eradication (where possible), management (on infested sites), and limiting the spread of Skeleton weed across the cereal growing districts.

Although there was a significant increase in the infested area of Skeleton weed in 2018/19, most of this increase was again in the eastern zone where conditions favoured Skeleton weed in late 2018.

As well the program increased its support to landholders through the search assistance program.

All program milestones have been met and the program has been delivered under budget

Program milestones

  • Winter treatment of Skeleton weed infestations, including supply and application of herbicide
  • Review and provide Skeleton weed information packages (Management Guide)
  • Pre-search planning and notification to affected landholders
  • Surveillance for Skeleton weed on high risk non-infested properties
  • Undertake monitoring on paddocks released from infested list in C2 areas
  • Conduct audits of infested properties and follow up compliance
  • Update records for annual summer search in project database
  • Annual Skeleton Weed Program debrief
  • Operational plans and budgets completed and approved by GSH IMC
  • Funding for Local Action Groups – applications assessed and funding facilitated
  • Skeleton Weed Program “Report to grain growers”

Program expenditure

Program expenditure totalled $4.258M, while income received from operational activities was $47,000.

The total net cost of the 2018/19 Program was $4.211M (as at 30 June 2019), $113 000 over the budgeted amount of $4.098M. $53,000 of this was due to a shortfall of the budgeted revenue, which can be attributed to a change in the billing timeframes for operational work.

$3.082M was allocated directly to landholder support in the form of search assistance, funding for six Local Action Groups and winter herbicide treatments (Table 1 and Figure 1). A further $1.129M was directed to program support and operational activities such as research, education, regulation and surveillance.

The cost of undertaking surveillance and control within the Perth metropolitan area is more than offset by revenues raised through charging land managers (on a fee for service basis) for work undertaken by project staff.

Table 1 Program expenditure 2018/19

Operational expenditure

 

Program support activities

 

Program operations, coordination, audit and compliance

$913 000

Education and awareness

$40 000

Targeted surveillance searching (including metro area)

$150 000

Field research

$26 000

Program support total

$1 129 000

Direct landholder support

 

Local Action Group support
(Includes chemical purchase $85 000)

$760 000

Provision for landholder searching subsidies

$2 003 000

Infested property support activities

$174 000

Winter spraying - chemical supply (DPIRD)

$145 000

Landholder support total

$3 082 000

Total expenditure

    $4 211 000

Figure 1  Program expenditure over 5 year period

Skeleton Weed program expenditure between 2014 and 2019

Recent improvements

Continuous improvement remains an important part of the Skeleton Weed Program’s ongoing development and effectiveness.

A number of significant refinements were made to the delivery of the program in 2018/19:

  • Previously stock had to be removed from paddocks six weeks before searching. This was reduced to four weeks, to allow famers better flexibility with stock.
  • Following feedback from landholders, Code 3 paddocks were included in the search assistance program
  • All current treatment recommendations were also reviewed and updated accordingly.

Compliance

The main focus of the Skeleton Weed Program is on assisting landholders and working with them to eradicate Skeleton weed. Consequently, there were few significant compliance issues.

In the past year, DIPRD and LAG staff have increased the level of auditing of landholders and contract operations in line with the increased funding in 2018/19.

Particular attention has been placed on the work contractors on the search assistance panel and a DPIRD Officer has been appointed to oversee the Quality Assurance Program

Perth metropolitan area

Surveillance in the Perth area was conducted in early December 2018 and February 2019. Winter treatment of the 2017/18 infested sites was undertaken in July 2018 and treatment of 2018/19 sites will be undertaken in July 2019.

All managers of infested sites must conduct searching for (and treatment of) Skeleton weed at their cost or contract DPIRD to undertake the work on a fee-for-service basis, on behalf of the GSHIMC. The current fee-for-service arrangement remains the preferred option for most metropolitan area landholders. The fee-for-service charges of “metro” sites have now been brought into line with the broad acre Skeleton weed season (October to October).

Those land managers who chose to undertake the management themselves were required to report on their activities and were subject to audits in December and February.

New sites continue to be reported or found and awareness is improving, particularly with local governments. The Program has strong support from the City of Cockburn and City of Wanneroo in particular.

Although new sites have been listed, many of the current sites have significantly reduced plant numbers, and some sites have been removed from the infested list.

Local Action Groups

Six Local Action Groups (LAGs), Bruce Rock, Kellerberrin and Corrigin; Avon North; Lakes, Narembeen; Nungarin, Trayning; Mukinbudin and Mt Marshall; and Yilgarn, were funded by the program during 2018/19, receiving a total of
$760 000. Additional funds were provided to enable LAGs to take on more operational activities, allowing DPIRD staff to focus on compliance and coordination of the program.

The development of LAGs to undertake the program’s operation activities in some areas has been very successful. All LAGs are now working autonomously and undertaking almost all tasks previously completed by DPIRD exclusively. LAGs may purchase chemical in their area provided the cost is within 10% of the price the Program Project Manager can obtain for the same chemical.

DPIRD remains the compliance management authority and all compliance requirements are met by DPIRD accordingly.

Industry Funding Schemes

The Skeleton Weed Program continues to operate under the Biosecurity and Agricultural Management Industry Funding Scheme (Grains) Regulations 2010. Responsibility for approving the funding and operations of the program reside with the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Management Committee initially appointed by the Minister in June 2010.

The GSHIMC met in April 2018 and approved the programs for the control of Skeleton weed and the eradication of Three-horned bedstraw on behalf of the WA grains industry. The committee recommended a contribution rate on grains, seeds and hay be reduced to 25 cents (down from 30) per tonne for grain and 12.5 cents (down from 15) per tonne for hay. These funds are used to support the Skeleton Weed and Bedstraw Programs, with Skeleton weed allocated 90% of the funds collected.

The reduced contribution rate reflects the higher than average amounts collected over the last few years and the willingness of the committee to respond to this and decrease the burden on landholders, when possible.

All contributions to the scheme are collected by purchasers of grain and hay and are paid into a Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme, Declared Pest Control and Compensation Account, which is managed by DPIRD in consultation with the Grains Industry Management Committee.

Research

The Program has been working closely with the private sector on the potential use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for the detection of Skeleton weed over the past three years. Significant progress has been made in this area. In 2018/19 UAVs were used to undertake surveillance searching for Skeleton weed for the first time. Although some processing and workflow issues were encountered, the overall outcome was very encouraging, with greater than 9,000ha searched. The Skeleton Weed Program will again be using UAVs to undertake (up to) 20 000ha of surveillance searching in the 2019/20 search season.

Chemical trials are also underway and are looking at further options for landholders to use in cropping programs.

Extension and awareness

The program has increased its extension effort over 2018/19. There has been a strategic and extensive extension campaign incorporating radio community service announcements, press releases and social media to coincide with the start of the summer search season (November/December 2018). This was very well received and has greatly raised the recognition and profile of Skeleton weed. We will certainly be doing this again in 2019/20.

Program staff attended all the major machinery field days and farmer events (including Mingenew, Dowerin, Newdegate and Wagin). These are important in maintaining contact with landholders and is a great way for the Skeleton weed team to talk face-to-face with landholders. This year, there were improvements to the display, interaction and engagement including distribution maps and interactive displays (including skeleton weed root tubes).

The program’s key publication, the Skeleton weed in WA: Management Guide was further reviewed and control recommendations updated, and separated into a main guide and Control Program booklet, which continue to be issued along with Landholder Information Packs to infested landholders. Promotional items continued to remain a favourite at field days and property visits which include the skeleton weed identification stickers. 

A working group was also formed in early 2019 to review the Communications Plan, objectives and key messages moving forward; and committed in ensuring landholder behavioural change results.

Findings – Program results at a glance

There was a significant increase in the “Infested area” and “Code 1 paddock area” in 2018/19. This can be attributed to increased searched area, the number of new finds and excellent growing conditions (late spring rains) in the Eastern Wheatbelt.

Many of the new finds are in the more heavily infested zones and are on properties where there has been higher than normal increase in re-infested paddocks. These events are not unique, but neither are they common. The important thing is that now these plants have been found they can be effectively treated.

The five year trends for the state and the agricultural regions are shown in Tables 2 and 3.

Infested properties

Contractors again searched the majority (65%) of the available “Code 1” and “Code 3” area eligible for search assistance. A total of 112 newly infested properties were reported by landholders or found by the DPIRD and/or Local Action Group (LAG) staff undertaking targeted surveillance.

DPIRD and LAG staff audited all properties that were eligible, to have them removed from the infested list and Skeleton weed was eradicated on 38 properties in 2018/19. However, the net gain (new properties less released properties) was 74 properties and is in line with the net gain on the previous year’s 62 new properties.

Although the overall number of infested properties continues to climb, it is at a relatively slow trend. The number of properties removed from the infested list is at a consistent level. These are particularly pleasing trends and a good indicator of the effectiveness of the program.

The Skeleton Weed Program continues to provide significant benefits to owners/managers of both infested and non-infested properties. Without a co-ordinated program aimed at controlling spread, Skeleton weed would now be much more abundant and widely established throughout the cereal growing districts.

Figure 2   Area of Code 1 paddocks searched over the last five years

Skeleton weed Code 1 paddocks between 2014 and 2019

Area searched

The total area searched in 2018/19 was 401 000ha approximately. The area of surveillance searching by landholders, DPIRD and LAGs was 58 000ha. Nine thousand hectares of this was searched using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones (Figure 3).

Figure 3   Total area searched by the program over the last five years

Skeleton weed searched area between 2014 and 2019

Search Assistance

Contractors searched a total of 170 000ha of eligible (“Code 1” and “Code 3”) paddocks and new finds, and were paid $1 580 000 under the search assistance scheme. Landholders searched 89 000ha of eligible (“Code 1” and “Code 3”) paddocks and new finds, and received $356 000 in search assistance.

Infested area

The actual “infested area” of Skeleton weed is the area where Skeleton weed plants are present, plus a 20m buffer, within an infested paddock / area. This is the area that will be treated for eradication in winter (Winter Treatment Program).

In 2018/19 there was a significant increase in the infested area, from 3 818ha in 2017/18 to 5 259ha (Figure 4). This can be related to seasonal conditions, but is also a reflection of the effectiveness of the Skeleton Weed Program at finding the infested area. The import thing with this is, that once we have found it, we can eradicate it.

A map of the agricultural area showing the four regions (Figure 6) and distribution of all infested sites can be found at the end of this report.

Figure 4   Actual area infested with Skeleton weed at the end of the search season

Infested area with skeleton weed between 2014 and 2019

Winter Treatments

The Skeleton weed Operational Activities Program runs from 1 October to 30 September the following year and the Winter Treatment for 2017/18 is undertaken from June to September 2018. The 2018/19 Winter Treatment began in June 2019 and is now being completed.

Summary of 2018

A total of 3 818ha was recorded as infested during the 2017/18 search season and marked for winter treatment in 2018. Some 4,150ha was sprayed in winter 2018. This extra sprayed area can be attributed to additional “whole paddock” treatments with Lontrel™. There was also a slight increase in the cost of winter treatment in the 2017/18 winter spraying program, with the inclusion of the Yilgarn and Narembeen shires. This has been very well received by the growers in these shires and the surrounding shires.

All shires across the cereal growing districts are now under the same assistance program.

Summary up to 30 June 2019

A total of 5 259ha was recorded as infested during the 2018/19 search season and marked for winter treatment in 2018.  

The 2018/19 winter treatment program also include the provision of Lontrel™ chemical to landholders listed for “whole paddock” spraying.

Planned improvements to the program in 2019/20

A meeting of DPIRD staff, search contractors and Local Action Groups (LAGs) was held at the end of the 2018/19 search season to discuss changes to optimise the Program’s current operation.

Some of the main issues raised were:

  • Concern over the lack of complete seed set control with summer treatments. This continues to be a problem to some landholders and further research is planned to look at improving this.
    The current control recommendations have been revised and updated and there are additional chemical options available in 2019/20.
    Additional research is also planned for 2019/20 summer.
  • Currently Code 2 paddocks require a “surveillance search” and if plants are found these paddocks are not eligible for search assistance until the following year (this tenet has been in place for many years. Landholders and staff have often questioned why “re-infested” Code 2 paddocks are not included in the Search Assistance Program, as they become Code 1 paddocks if plants are found. It was considered that by adding “re-infested” Code 2 paddocks to the Search Assistance Scheme it has greatly enhanced the level of searching and given landholders the option of having this done by a contractor, at a time when most are busy with harvest.
    This will now provide “search assistance” to landholders for all paddocks that are currently infested.
  • Paddocks that are (greater than 10% infested – by area) are known as “Lontrel Paddocks”. These paddocks have been, to date, the responsibility of the landholder to spray in winter. It has long been suggested by landholders that these paddocks in particular should receive some support from the program to bring them back to a manageable level.
    Providing Clopyralid (Lontrel™) herbicide to landholders that want to undertake their own spraying of these paddocks, was considered the best option for this assistance in 2019/20.
  • The program is operating satisfactorily where continuous cropping or short rotations were used. However, it was found that eradication was not being achieved as easily where landholders were using longer rotations and some plants were surviving in previously treated squares.
    It was agreed to trial the use of a pre-cropping application of picloram in 2019 and this trial is now underway.
  • In the 2018/19 summer search season, greater than 9,000ha was searched by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s). This was shown to quite successful and comparable to the traditional searching methods (people searching from vehicles). It also had some advantages with regards to controlled traffic, OHS and reduced fire hazard.
    This will again be undertaken and will be greatly improved by the lesson learned and methodology developed last season.

Key Program Indicators

Table 2 State-wide Skeleton Weed Program key indicators (comparison between 2017/18 and 2018/19)

 

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched
(ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

State-wide totals

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

51 975

67 609

33 250

25 902

401 000

299 055

205 735

276 194

3 818

5 259

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations and surveillance searching where no new infestations were detected.
** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Table 3(a) Overall key indicators for the 2017/18 Program by regions

Region

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched (ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

Northern

2 474

1 236

22 807

15 782

167

Western

3 768

1 303

19 878

15 357

392

Eastern

30 689

22 491

196 185

132 679

2 122

Southern

15 044

8 220

60 185

41 917

1 137

 

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Table 3(b) Overall key indicators for the 2018/19 Program by regions

Region

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched (ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

Northern

3 213

1 649

29 781

19 571

209

Western

4 654

1 978

31 241

23 303

289

Eastern

46 979

19 575

275 516

190 181

3 863

Southern

12 759

2 700

64 709

43 214

894

 

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included

Table 4 Skeleton Weed Program key indicators by regions and zones (2017/18 and 2018/19)

Northern Region

   

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched
(ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

Zone

Shires

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

Geraldton

Greater Geraldton, Chapman Valley, Northampton, Mingenew, Mullewa, Morawa, Three Springs, Irwin, Carnamah, Coorow

1 613

1 846

641

788

12 810

19 314

8 879

13 794

87

115

Moora

Moora, Victoria Plains

101

316

0

25

1 658

3 118

1 307

1 322

10

16

Wongan Hills

Wongan-Ballidu, Dalwallinu, Koorda, Perenjori

522

1,010

0

836

1 920

3 882

1 171

2 025

4

14

Chittering

Gingin, Dandaragan, Chittering

238

41

595

0

6 419

3 467

4 425

2 430

66

64

 

Regional totals

2 474

3 213

1 236

1 649

22 807

29 781

15 782

19 571

167

209

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Western Region

   

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched
(ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

 Zone

 

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

Avon

Goomalling, Dowerin, Wyalkatchem, Toodyay, Northam, Cunderdin, Quairading, Tammin, Beverley and York. Brookton added to Avon 2018/19

3 768

4 654

1 303

1 978

19 878

31 241

15 357

23 303

392

289

Narrogin

Pingelly, Cuballing, Narrogin, (includes currently non-infested shires of Wandering, Williams and Wagin)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

Regional totals

3 768

4 654

1 303

1 978

19 878

31 241

15 357

23 303

392

289

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Eastern Region

   

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched
(ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

 Zone

 

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

Merredin

Mt Marshall, Mukinbudin, Westonia, Kellerberrin, Bruce Rock, Corrigin (Part), Trayning, Nungarin and Merredin

10 739

17 589

5 705

6 878

53 209

82 661

33 694

55 223

585

1 390

Eastern

Narembeen and Yilgarn

19950

29 390

16 786

12 697

142 976

192 855

98 985

134 958

1 537

2 473

 

Regional totals

30 689

46 979

22 491

19 575

196 185

275 516

132 679

190 181

2 122

3 863

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Southern Region

   

New infested area
(ha)

Infested area released (ha)

Area searched
(ha)

Code 1 paddocks infested area (ha)

Area under winter eradication treatment (ha)**

 Zone

 

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

2017/18

2018/19

Lakes

Kulin, Kondinin, Lake Grace, Dumbleyung, Wickepin, Corrigin (Part) and Ravensthorpe north

15 044

12 759

8 217

2 700

59 992

64 615

41 823

43 120

1 137

894

Southern

Defined by the DPIRD “Southern Region” - includes Esperance, southern Ravensthorpe

0

0

0

0

193

94

94

94

0.2

0.2

 

Regional totals

15 044

12 759

8 220

2 700

60 185

64 709

41 917

43 214

1 137

894

* Excludes metropolitan area infestations.  ** Some whole paddock “Lontrel” treatments by landholders not included.

Maps

map of the Skeleton Weed Program Operational Zones

Figure 5 Map of Skeleton weed operational zones

Code1 paddocks recorded during the 2018-2019 Skeleton Weed Program

Figure 6 Map of Skeleton weed infestations in Western Australia as at 30 June 2019