By Ivan Carter, VSTWP Community Engagement Officer, 2016.
Graham Simpson has seen many a drought, flood and fire pass through the family farm since the 1950s and can certainly tell you a thing or two about his ongoing battle with serrated tussock. Graham grew up on the farm, which once spanned 2300 acres, and has dedicated much time and effort caring for the property’s agricultural and environmental assets.
The land has a variety of soils and aspects, including creek frontage, and lies within the core of Victoria’s serrated tussock infestation, where it is a challenge to keep the tussock in check while also running a productive farm. The farm, now 1300 acres in size, produces barley, oats and sheep, and measures have evolved overtime to contend with the enduring serrated tussock problem that goes hand in hand with living in the core infestation.
Graham recalls when serrated tussock first started to appear in the landscape and admits that both the landowners and the State Government were slow to act on the issue. “I guess you could say we were asleep at the wheel and in the late 1980s it became a huge problem. After the drought the occurrence of serrated tussock rapidly increased and that’s when it really began to impact the agricultural operations in the area” noted Graham. “The establishment of the VSTWP in 1995 was the key to getting some education into the area and some good outcomes were achieved from 1995-2002, aided by compliance support from the State Government.”
Photo 1: Cultivating areas of the farm are a successful way to kill the existing serrated tussock plants.
The farm has many areas suitable for cropping and Graham utilises cultivation to control much of the serrated tussock, but notes that the tussock comes back stronger with disturbance, particularly if it is a good rainfall season. “It is very vulnerable to ploughing, but people have to realise that the tussock will come back usually in 3 years due to the seed bank being disturbed” said Graham.
On other areas of the vast farm, Graham uses the selective herbicide Fluproponate to spot spray and aerial spray serrated tussock. This is a time consuming and expensive exercise, but has lasting residual effects and allows Graham to retain the beneficial competitive grasses. “I’d estimate that I spend 500 hours a year on serrated tussock across the entire farm and outlay considerable costs in hiring aerial spraying contractors” notes Graham. “The key is to treat the plants prior to seeding each season to exhaust the seed bank”. Graham has also planted-out some of the farms lesser productive areas with shrubs and trees, to help improve the environmental outcomes across the farm.'
Photo 2: Graham has worked hard to spot spray the tussock on the steeper slows and revegetate the river flats.
Graham’s biggest challenge is the lack of serrated tussock management on neighbouring properties, many of which have significant infestations. This is a substantial setback to both the financial and personal investment Graham pours into his property. Graham remains hopeful that continued serrated tussock education campaigns will lead to greater community awareness of the problem and its impacts, and will in turn generate renewed coordinated community action like that seen in the late 1990s. “It really comes down to each landowner taking responsibility for their property and doing the required works each year to prevent the plants from seeding. I believe that through education, and with assistance from measured compliance, communities can achieve great results towards protecting agricultural and environmental assets” concludes Graham.
Photo 3: The wall to wall serrated tussock left un-treated on the adjoining property, the biggest concern of Graham’s treatment regime.
Photo 4: Graham’s sheep eat amongst the native grasses and treated tussock plants.