Helen and Barry have lived in rural Toolernvale for over two decades and relocated from the city to get some acreage for their farming ambitions and their growing family. They valued the beautiful landscape, especially with its creek frontage and views of rolling hills.
The 100-acre block of land is a mix of aspects and waterways, with a variety of heavy volcanic soils on one side of the creek and lighter loams on the southern side. In addition, there was gorse and briar rose in the waterways from many decades ago. The western slopes, the drier areas of the property were very difficult to get decent pastures, due to low rainfall, rocks and high exposure to sun and wind.
Serrated tussock had been an issue from the 1980s onwards around Toolernvale and more so further south around Melton. Over the two decades following the 1982 drought, the seeds frequently blew in the wind from Melton, upto the farm, smothering the farm in seeds and new seedlings every season. Helen and Barry have been treating the Serrated tussock for over two decades, and still have a battle on their hand, but a much better understanding of what works well.
Initially, it seemed like the farming family would never get on top of the Serrated tussock, but as they learned more about pasture improvement and shelterbelts of native vegetation, things began to improve over the past decade. “We have planted over 20,000 trees around the boundaries for protection from bad infestations next door, as well as some difficult to manage west-facing paddocks, where pasture was hard to establish,” said Helen. “This has allowed is to shade and outcompete the new tussock seedlings for moisture, and has improved our moral about the farm and its long term sustainability”.
In particular, they both note the importance of preventing further spread and conclude that the native vegetation around all boundaries has been the reason seeds no long blow into the farm with such vigor. “The shelter belts have two desirable outcomes, a decrease in seed dispersal of tussock and also increases in biodiversity and windbreaks” notes Barry. “Whilst there has been a cost for the native vegetation, it has been worth it to date”.
The couple estimate they spot spray for at least three hours a week, for half of the year. This prevents further seeding of new seedlings from the existing seed bank. After lengthy discussions with the VSWTP extension officer, Ivan Carter, the family has agreed to increase their treatments, with renewed hope that the surrounding properties will also get their treatments complete. “This has really excited us, as our neighbours have not treated their tussock in over a decade, which makes things hard”.