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Clean machines preventing weed spread 27 Jul 2012

The smallest of seeds can be carried far and wide by vehicles and machinery, potentially spreading weeds to farms and bushland around Australia.

Weeds nationally cost more than $4 billion a year in lost agricultural production and control costs, as well as immeasurable damage to the environment.

Detecting and treating invasive plants while they still occur at low abundance and with limited distribution provides the best opportunity to prevent wide-scale establishment. It also represents the stage of invasion at which a rapid response results in cost effective management.

The National Weed Spread Prevention Initiative (NWSPI) was established in 2011 by the Australian Governments Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry. The initiative seeks to reduce weed spread through early detection and rapid response by encouraging knowledge sharing and the adoption of nationally consistent approaches in weed management.

The project officer for the NWSPI, Dr Matt Sheehan, said a key priority of the initiative was to improve linkages and support networks between all weed managers, including industry.

“There is a need to increase education opportunities within industries on weed risks and the legislative responsibilities they have to manage weeds, as well as to provide tools to help industry reduce their impacts,” Dr Sheehan said.

“Partnerships that include industry can reduce the spread of weeds and increase the likelihood of early detection and rapid response.

“The initiative also provides an opportunity for us to recognise and promote the numerous examples we have of industries being proactive in weed spread prevention.”

The Civil Construction Industry provides one such example. The Civil Construction Federation (CCF) is the peak body representing civil engineering contractors across Australia. With 2000 members, the CFF represents a workforce of approximately 350,000 Australia-wide. Civil contractors work on a wide range of projects including the development and maintenance of roads, bridges, dams, wharves and commercial and housing developments.

Environmental field officer for CCF, Wayne Huntley said that civil construction activities often involve working in direct contact with soil, and therefore present a high risk of weed contamination and subsequent spread.

To address this, the CCF has developed an industry-wide guide for machinery hygiene that details methods for detecting and removing contaminant plant parts, seeds and soil from machinery.

“The development of the guide has been an important and proactive step in preventing the spread of weeds to new areas, be that in urban environments or in agricultural or environmentally sensitive areas,” Mr Huntley said.

“By adopting this guide and applying effective machinery hygiene methods, contractors help to reduce the spread of invasive plants.”

The Machinery Hygiene Guide and an online e-learning tool were developed in partnership with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI), with support from the Association of Land Development Engineers (ALDE), VicRoads, and Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). The DPI-CCF partnership worked to develop best practice methods of weed spread prevention (for both strategic and on-the-ground activities).

Dr Sheehan said that the guide provides just one example of the types of tools that can be developed to reduce weed spread.

“It also illustrates how the development and effectiveness of such tools can benefit through partnerships,” he said.

The NWSPI seeks to raise the awareness of the importance of weed spread prevention, promote the achievements of industries such as CCF, and encourage other industries who which to adopt a proactive approach to tackle weed spread.

·  Industries interested in developing a weed spread prevention or weed management initiative should contact Dr Matt Sheehan on 0427 722 793 or email matt@wildmatters.com.au.

· To participate in the CCF web learning tool and view video demonstrations of best practice go to http://civiltrain.trainingvc.com.au/. New visitors must register with a username and password to participate in the training module.

Ten tips for weed spread prevention at construction sites
1.      Conduct a site assessment and determine if there are noxious weeds or plant diseases present.
2.      Chemically treat or manually remove weeds before commencing work, where appropriate, and plan the disposal method to be used. Contact the relevant state authority for disposal permits for declared weeds.
3.      Locate suitable clean down areas, usually near entry and exit points, and identify these on your site map.
4.      If possible, plan works to progress from clean areas to infested areas (particularly when working on roadsides).
5.      Aim to minimise disturbance of existing vegetation.
6.      Implement procedures to inspect and/or clean machinery entering and leaving the site.
7.      Ensure everyone on site is familiar with machinery hygiene and cleaning procedures by use of site inductions and training.
8.      Avoid the movement of people and machinery through infested areas particularly at the high risk time of seeding.
9.      Use removable screens over grills on vehicles to prevent seeds lodging in internal parts such as the radiator.
10.  Seek a declaration from suppliers that soil and machinery received to site is weed and disease free (especially for re-vegetation works).

Media contact: Damon Whittock, 02 6271 4127 or 0418 107 196.