Milestone in the fight against red witchweed

Queensland Government
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
11 December 2013
Feature Article

Four sugar cane producers in the Mackay region have reached a significant milestone after successfully completing their harvest, despite the presence of an exotic weed on their properties.

Biosecurity Queensland’s Invasive Plants and Animals Director Dr John Robertson, said red witchweed (Striga asiatica) was first confirmed in the area in July 2013.

“Since then, Biosecurity Queensland has been conducting an intensive surveillance effort to establish the exact spread of this exotic pest,” he said.

“At the same time, we’ve been working closely with these producers to facilitate harvesting on their properties under strict protocols.

“This has been necessary to significantly reduce the risk of spreading red witchweed from the infested properties. To date this has been successful, but we must remain vigilant.

“For the four producers whose properties were placed under movement restrictions, it’s been a challenging time.

“It has involved restricted movement of vehicles on and off the properties, some stringent washdown procedures and the use of a dedicated harvester.

“Finishing a seasonal harvest is always seen as a great occasion for producers, but this is an especially good outcome for these particular property owners.

“Reaching this key milestone in the production cycle was seen as an essential goal to ensuring their business continuity was maintained.

“I want to acknowledge the property owners’ cooperation and commitment to working with us to beat this weed.”

Dr Robertson said Biosecurity Queensland would continue to work closely with this group to develop individual property management plans.

“This will allow them to conduct their business as usual, as much as possible, over the next 12 months, while continuing to control the pest,” he said.

“But our surveillance effort isn’t just confined to these four sites. As part of the ongoing Red Witchweed Response, Biosecurity Queensland teams will be visiting properties in the Mackay area a number of times over the next 12 months to conduct further rounds of surveillance.

“We have identified about 200 properties in the region that will be monitored.

“This will give everyone confidence that this serious pest has been confined to the known infested properties.

“While we haven’t seen red witchweed on any other properties, we cannot be complacent as much of the weed’s lifecycle occurs below ground.

“The number of properties under movement restrictions remains at just four, and we are hopeful that it will remain that way.

“While this response is ongoing, we are urging producers to be on the lookout for any suspicious weeds or unidentified plants on their properties.

“Report to us anything seen above ground that appears to be red witchweed and take note of the date and location.

“Leave the area undisturbed until Biosecurity Queensland can visit the site and take any necessary action.

“Prevention is always better than cure. If we stay on top of this we have a very real chance of preventing any further spread and ridding the area of this weed altogether.”

Red witchweed is a root parasite that damages cereal crops such as wheat, sorghum, maize (corn), rice and sugar cane, depriving them of water and nutrients.

Red witchweed is a notifiable pest under the Plant Protection Act 1989 and all exotic Striga species are declared Class 1 pests under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002.

For more information on witchweed, visit www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23.

Follow Biosecurity Queensland on Facebook and Twitter (@BiosecurityQld).

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