Welcome to Upfront Outback
Field days come and field days go, but something different happened at our recent Audreystone field day near Barcaldine. Listening to the feedback made you think it was like a harmonising acapella group… different notes and riffs, but each part in tune and complementing each other.
Eighty-seven lucky people got to participate in what is now the touchstone for DCQ field days – future ones will all be measured against Audreystone. What made Audreystone universally lauded by participants and presenters was more than content, it was more than location, it was more than the catering, and it was more than weather. It was the balance, organisation, flow, dynamics, interest and participation.
The day left people feeling positive and empowered: not only did we discuss problems and thorny issues, our presenters delivered options and ways forward on total grazing pressure, succession planning, farm economics, weed science, Prickly Acacia control and the biocontrol of Parkinsonia.
Enquiries from people who couldn’t make it but are keen for information on the presentations they’ve heard about, tells us our Audreystone field day hit the sweet spot with landholders. Our thanks to Satisfaction Bakery and Coffee’s Up! Nature’s Tonic for keeping the bodies well fuelled while our presenters did the same with their minds.
Members of the Stamford 6 collaboration held their second meeting the other day. As well as comparing notes on the first tranche of Prickly Acacia control work across their properties, they got stuck into updating their weed management plans. They also spent a fair amount of time discussing life after weeds, and how they best protect their (and our) investment to date. Apart from assiduous follow up control work until the soil seed bank is exhausted, a critical protection against being reinfested is a quarantine protocol. This involves not moving cattle from infested country to clean country without letting them empty our first.
Given that Prickly Acacia seeds can remain viable in the bovine gut for about a week, it’s essential to keep the cattle in a holding paddock for more than a week to allow them to pass all seeds before moving them into paddocks free of Prickly Acacia. Any germinations from the cattle movement are then contained in the small, easy-to-monitor holding paddock where they are easily treated.
Doctor Mitchell Grass, David Phelps, was also in attendance to brief attendees on the germination of Mitchell Grass, wet season spelling and the recovery of pasture from both drought and weeds.
The Stamford 6 is a ground-breaking, collaborative project between DCQ and its sister group, Southern Gulf NRM. By pooling knowledge and resources we figure we’re well placed to rid the watershed between the Lake Eyre Basin and the Gulf rivers of Prickly Acacia (more on that in the Obvious Bedfellows story below).
The Stamford 6 is also where our new, expanded WoNS AMP will have its first run. Our application to the State Government to expand the DCQ WoNS AMP north into the Southern Gulf region has been approved. This expansion will unlock the efficiencies of the DCQ program into a new area and give impetus to landholders outside our region.
DCQ and Southern Gulf NRM will increasingly work across their common boundary as their successful good neighbour policy of keep Prickly Acacia on your own property is increasingly rolled out in our region – together we are more than the sum of our parts.
AI meets PA
DCQ and Queensland University of Technology have just inked an agreement that will see the latter using its expertise in machine learning to potentially deliver another huge cost reduction in the former’s ongoing campaign against Prickly Acacia.
A few years ago, we started using basic artificial intelligence (AI) to identify Prickly Acacia (PA) from aerial photos, but our partnership with QUT is a huge leap forward for us in this area. QUT’s Research Engineering Facility is training its powerful computers to recognise and count individual PA trees, calculate densities, and produce a mosaic map that reflects the varying densities across a particular area. It will also mark out protective buffers around native vegetation.
We’re optimistic that this new initiative will deliver an 85% reduction in the survey and density mapping component that underpins how we calculate chemical and labour costs, as well as which application technique we use in any given area. One of the keys to our staggering cost savings to date has been the fine scale at which we adjust our application techniques to make sure we are always using the most cost-effective method for the infestation characteristics and the terrain.
Our proof of concept has delivered exciting results and we’re now moving into 25 hectare Stage 1 field trial funded by the Queensland Government’s Feral Pest Initiative. Subject to results, and additional funding, a 350,000 hectare Stage 2 beckons, followed by Stage 3 mapping of all 12 million hectares of core infestations.
AMP-ing it up
Anyone connected with land management will have heard of the new vegetation management laws and be concerned about their potential impact, especially in the areas of Gidyea control and weed management. Under the Vegetation Management Act, DCQ has two Area Management Plans (AMPs): the one for Thinning and Encroachment of Gidyea will cease in 2020; the other, the Weeds of National Significance (WoNS) AMP, will continue.
Our WoNS AMP is the great enabler of our Prickly Acacia eradication program… it prescribes how we can control these weeds, particularly Prickly Acacia, around native vegetation. The DCQ WoNS AMP is the key that’s unlocked much of the efficiency gain of our Prickly Acacia eradication program over the past five years.
At the recent Parliamentary enquiry into vegetation management, our Chair, Dom Burden, gave a presentation on how, under our WoNS AMP, we’re driving the recovery of the rangelands and delivering the biodiversity and productivity outcomes the community and landholders are seeking.
However, this recovery is about so much more than killing prickle trees – getting rid of the Prickly Acacia is only the first step. Our program, through our grazing management plans, is about how we manage this recovery, how we manage our pastures and livestock to aid the return to the original grasslands with all the associated biodiversity and production benefits.
Our advocacy for local solutions, supported by years of data, not only was strongly supported on the day, it created a huge response on social media and in the Queensland Country Life.
The basic tenet of our presentation was that vegetation should be managed under area-based, rather than state-based rules. AMPs, in particular, need to be based on outcomes to recover rangeland health, rather than prescriptive rules, and we’ll continue to work with the Government to achieve that result.
Luck’s a fortune
At the Westech Field Days in Barcaldine last September, our site’s major prize was a day of work by our field team, funded by the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative. The lucky winner was newcomer to the district, and Prickly Acacia neophyte, Dan Christmas of Culburnie, northwest of Barcaldine.
Having come from the Capella area, Dan was unfamiliar with prickle trees, so he was very grateful when the DCQ field team descended en masse with their four-wheel-drives, ATVs and tractor, as well as the drone to take some footage, which you can watch here.
As is the case on properties watered by open bore drains, Culburnie has heavy infestations of Prickly Acacia along these sources of unlimited water. The Prickly Acacia had also formed forests where water had broken out of the bore drain and spread down the slopes. From these seed sources, the cattle had spread the prickly trees to surrounding paddocks and creeks.
While the one day of work didn’t make a huge dent in Dan’s Prickly Acacia problem, it did show him the techniques and tools to attack the issue, and it introduced him to, and got him participating in, our Grazing Management Planning program funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture.
As well as our funders, we’d like to thank our industry partners who supplied equipment for the day: PBE Services and EW & CEM Entriken.
DCQ has been battling Prickly Acacia for its entire 15 years; Southern Gulf NRM, the same; and Biosecurity Queensland has officers steeped in the science of this pest plant, and who have been researching its control for two decades. Three organisations, three different approaches, three stories of success.
Obvious bedfellows. Which is why the Prickly Acacia Alliance (PAA) came into being last year.
In early March, the PAA held its latest meeting in Charters Towers at the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Tropical Weed Research Centre. Representatives of the three organisations are continuing to work on a number of initiatives to get the greatest synergies out of their respective strengths.
First and foremost is further developing a five-step incentive and reward concept that describes the status and tracks the progress of producers’ Prickly Acacia control program. They were also looking at developing guidelines for inter-regional consistency for assistance to producers in implementing management strategies and their progress in the five-step plan.
Another initiative the PAA is devoting its energies to is the integration of Prickly Acacia management strategies into other extension support for grazing enterprises. For example, Prickly Acacia control is crucial to drought resilience and pasture recovery; therefore, it should be an automatic component of pasture management extension.
Fairly obvious bedfellows, and some fairly obvious benefits for landholders across both regions.
Pigs in mud
With the recent run in the Channel Country rivers, the feral pigs remaining in the area will think they have it made – plenty of water and tucker to breed up big, and lots of mud to wallow in. But things are not always as they seem.
Since 2011, DCQ has carried out effective aerial shooting and baiting of feral pigs across the Channel Country to minimise the migration of feral pigs downstream into high value wetlands such as the Ramsar listed Coongie Lakes in South Australia. This program is moving into a new phase as landholders take more ownership of control and DCQ continues to monitor populations and breeding rates through our network of 38 remote monitoring cameras.
Of late, landholders have been doing quite a bit of ground shooting, and some have even run their own aerial shoot using accredited marksmen – one place culled 2000 feral pigs in 2 days. While this sounds a lot, these Channel Country properties are measured in thousands of square kilometres.
With DCQ supplying the bullets, and the landholders supply data on the shoots back to DCQ, the program is morphing into a great landcare project as landholder ownership is now driving the work. And due to the current low feral pig numbers, both the landholders and fragile ecosystems will see greater benefits from the current flows and recent rain.
Never ones to shy away from something different, our Landcare program recently got a good deal on four tonnes of sheeps hearts. We have promptly offered it to the region’s Landcare groups, shire rural lands officers, local wild dog committees, cluster fence groups and individual landholders at a discounted rate to assist them in their ground baiting efforts to controlling predation.
While some has gone to landholders in the Ilfracombe and Jericho areas, the majority was taken by the Barcoo Shire as they are about to launch into their twice yearly ground baiting program.
Barcoo Shire’s Peter Pigeon said the sheeps hearts are really convenient when landholders come up a bit short with there meat supply – the hearts are in small packs that are easy to handle and quickly defrost.
By cleaning up small pest animals including feral cats, foxes and wild dogs, the landholders get a production benefit, and the native fauna can take heart that they’re getting some relief from very effective hunters against which they have no defence.
Calling all Basinites
If you identify as a Lake Eyre Basinite, it will be because you have some history with the Lake Eyre Basin community process that prevented the World Heritage listing of the Channel Country and the growing of cotton on the Cooper in the 1990s.
And out of that hard-fought process came the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement signed between Queensland and South Australia at Birdsville on 21st October 2000, with the Northern Territory becoming a signatory in 10th June 2004.
The Agreement deals with the cross-border impacts of the management of water and related resources, and it is up for review, but you have to be fast, submissions close on 2nd May – that’s right, you only have a few days.
Don’t panic, you can do it online at here . If you need further information, contact Chris Biesaga on 02 6272 4109, or email the Lake Eyre Basin Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org.