THE TIMELY arrival of a convoy of trucks loaded with fodder from Western Australia that arrived in the central NSW town of Condobolin was hailed a lifesaver by growers in the area.
But biosecurity officials down the east coast have a stark warning for those who see hay from WA and South Australia as a potential saviour, saying there is a need to be vigilant to ensure they do not get more than they bargain for.
The 23 truck Condobolin convoy was made up of export quality hay so biosecurity was not an issue, but there could be biosecurity issues with other hay coming into the east coast states from both South Australia and Western Australia.
Agriculture Victoria has warned the increased movement of hay and grain increases the potential of spreading pests and diseases, while Rachel Taylor-Hukins, NSW Department of Primary Industries grains biosecurity officer said her team had put out a fact sheet regarding potential risks of importing fodder from interstate.
Central NSW farmer Terry Fishpool, Tottenham, is in one of the regions hit hardest by drought, however he was sceptical of the merits of bringing in interstate fodder, saying it could easily be a case of short term gain and long term pain.
“I’m particularly worried about weed seeds coming in, the last thing we want is herbicide resistant ryegrass and wild radish, which is a big problem in WA, getting a foothold in the region, it would be a massive price to pay just for a couple of loads of hay.”
Mr Fishpool said strict biosecurity standards applied to harvesters coming across from other states needed to be applied to fodder as well.
“To get a header coming from Western Australia into NSW you virtually need to take it apart and put it together again, so I think the same standards should apply for fodder.”
There are a couple of problem pests the NSW DPI is particularly worried about.
In its fact sheet it is urging farmers to be particularly careful when importing hay from Western and South Australia that could contain lupins.
All plant material from the legume crop grown in either of the two states is prohibited to enter NSW due to concerns about the disease lupin anthracnose.
NSW buyers of fodder from WA and SA are encouraged to request a commodity declaration from the vendor declaring that the fodder is free of lupin material.
Snails and weeds are also a cause for concern.
The green snail, an exotic pest, is found in Western Australia and a small part of Victoria.
The NSW DPI fact sheet mentions the subtropical weed parthenium, found mainly in Queensland, along with branched broomrape, which is an issue in South Australia.
Farmers are also urged to look at the transport the fodder is brought in on.
Agriculture Victoria grains biosecurity officer, Jim Moran said the introduction and spread of pests and diseases could be minimised by inspecting all machinery arriving at the property and to ensure it is free of any foreign plant material, animal matter or soil.
Given the scarcity of feed, farmers in drought-ravaged areas may feel they have to take the risk with imported fodder if they are lucky enough to source some.
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Officials said long-term risks of weed or pest incursions can be minimized by limiting the area where the fodder or grain is spread.
"Dispense feed hay and grain in a designated quarantine paddock and confine the animals to that area for a few days so that any weed seeds are kept in a confined space,” Mr Moran said.
"This allows for easy monitoring of germinating weeds and any pests can be detected early and easily contained and controlled when restricted to a small area.”
Mr Fishpool said this was one way to minimise exposure to weed seeds.
He also suggested that hay be put through a feed mill and made into pellets before being brought across.
“I think having the hay made into pellets would be a good way of easily minimising the biosecurity problems while it would also make it less bulky to freight across – the only thing I am not sure about is the cost.”
Duncan Young, WAFarmers grains section president, said much of the biosecurity debate may end up being largely academic.
“I am not sure how much uncommitted hay there is in WA,” he said.
“There is hay committed to the export market while a lot of fodder also went to graziers in the south of the state during autumn and early winter as we had a late start to the season.”
He said WA growers were open to sending any unsold hay east but said they would need to check the various biosecurity requirements before agreeing to sales.
Biosecurity law is conducted on a state basis meaning there is a variation according to the end destination of the fodder.
“As I understand it, it would be easier to get hay into Victoria due to the relevant laws in both states,” Mr Young said.