Let me first give some details about Australia’s lust for ‘crop and weed spraying’. BY 2006 our annual use of herbicides was over 18 000 tonnes and for insecticides over 8000 tonnes, fungicides another 3000 tonnes. This is the un-adulterated product. At a generally advised mix of 200 mls of the herbicide or insecticide per 100 litre of water that then gives every person (20.000.000 people) more than 600 litres of chemicals in which to spray crops, weeds. You could happily spray a litre per day and have plenty left at the end of the year. You can understand why we are leaving such an enormous ecological hoof/footprint every time when leaving the rural produce store. We are fond of chemicals.
So, once a year the farmer receives a letter with a date whereupon a ‘Noxious Weed Inspector’ will come out to inspect weeds. He arrives in a large 4W drive car with a Shire logo painted on its doors and will ask how the poisoning of weeds is progressing. I generally act evasive and vague which is my nature and easy to comply with. He soon picks up on my lack of enthusiasm for spraying and killing dreaded weeds. After ten minutes or so of country banter we start on a walk towards the infestation of weeds along the river that might have survived or overcome the latest spraying of toxic poisons. I try and bring the conversation over to the subject of herbicide resistance. There is now a slight change in the demeanour of the Noxious Weed Inspector.
What makes a good Noxious Weed Inspector anyway? Do burning desires and ambitions lay dormant for years in a person before breaking out in an all consuming drive to become one? Is a fixation with weeds something one is born with, genetic predisposition perhaps? Are now, after all those years of study and hard work the essence of Weed Extermination in danger of being thwarted by “herbicide resistance”? How fickle life can be for Noxious Weed Inspectors.
We now have the world’s second largest list of herbicide resistant weeds, 53 listed weeds resistant to herbicide, including the Serrated Tussock. Herbicide resistance is, simply put, the ability for plants to develop genetic change and become resistant to the poisons. Nature has this amazing ability and iron will to survive. It only takes mankind to really defeat them.
The problem is that most weeds thrive in areas that have been over-stocked, over cropped, over fertilized and generally exploited for too long a period. Weeds are taking their revenge. The battle between farmers and weeds is not being won by the farmers it seems.
Our paddocks just have a very common but very invasive weed, Serrated Tussock. It is an escaped little plant from South America but the focus of much scorn and debate amongst Weed Inspector socials. It is invasive but allowing paddocks to lay fallow and allow native vegetation to restore a balance again seems a better option than spraying.
We don’t make a living at all from farming, so for real farmers weeds are taking away part of their income. Certainly letting land fallow seems a luxury that not many can afford. However, the enormous cost of fighting weeds chemically might well become a worse option now. About 2.5 % percent of total farm cost in use of chemicals in 1988 has risen to 9% of total farm cost in 2006.
Monsanto is looking smug here.
Our weed inspector is not too keen on talk about herbicide resistance and quite rightly sees this as another attempt and an inroad on his authority to order killing weeds. He increases the speed of walking and furrows are now on his forehead. I appease and talk a little about the high cost of the chemicals recommended for killing weeds. The cost of those chemicals is between $350. – And $550. – Per twenty litres.
He tells me he will impose an inspection cost/ fine of $110. – For any non compliance, he emphasises. Years of study, experience and inspectorial knowhow now come to the fore.
I casually tell him of NSW Water Catchment Authority and their concern of flow on of toxins in the river that at the end flows into the Warragamba Dam. That water will eventually be consumed by the people of Sydney. Never mind that. Just think of the platypuses. They get a direct king hit as soon as the herbicide washes into the river. Our small acreage has almost two kilometres frontage to a river, hence another reason for us not to be keen with spraying Glyphosate, Flupropanate or other chemicals with even more sinister names.
From our perspective and experience over the last fourteen years, it has shown that weeds will thrive under stressed conditions. Spraying with chemicals has often marginal results. They come up even more and stronger next time around. In any case, the weeds now have’ heroically,’ developed herbicide resistance.
Our Weed inspector has now finished his tour of duty and has given me the option of getting a contractor out who will spray, not just the weeds by spot spraying, but do the job by boom spray. A boom spray is a contraption of a series of spraying nozzles on a five or six metre boom towed behind a tractor that will spray a swath of weed killers over the lot. The weed killer is ‘selective’ and will have a fantastic ‘residual’ quality, he enthuses. He is throwing everything at me now but somehow senses my sullen reluctance to weed killing and toxic mixtures. He again mentions the ‘$110. – Inspection/fine.
The advice of chemical suppression is against the latest science. Problem is that the Noxious Weed Act is from 1993 (Section 18) and that Australia’s worst weed, the Serrated Tussock, has started to morph into a most resisting little weed. Herbicide spraying only gives it even more room next time around as native competing vegetation has been removed as well. Its dormant seed bank just sprouts up with even more chemical resistant tussock babies.
I tell him I will consider, but quietly reckon the inspection fee will be the preferred option, especially for the weeds. The platypuses have been giving a reprieve. The wombats are having a ripping time building and manning the ramparts. The blackberries continue with their impenetrable wall for future defence.
The Noxious Weed Inspector drives off.