THE Woods family at Boggabilla, have been fighting an “unwinnable battle” against lippia for decades.
Winners of the 2017 Excellence In Farming award at the recent Agricultural Societies Council Suncorp Bank Field Wheat Competition they have thrown everything they could think of at lippia weed which invaded their floodplain country on “Limebon” from the local creek systems.
Co-principal of Limebon Partnership, Robert Woods, said the floodplain was their lifeblood and the family had learnt to go with it by changing their management to handle lots of water.
The way NSW legislation has gone we seem to have little political support with land clearing laws.
“The downside is we inherit every weed that anybody has from anywhere along the river valley,” he said, and lippia was the most devastating.
“Like most noxious weeds lippia is a garden escapee and was introduced to Australia not only as a garden lawn, but also to stabilise river banks, which it did completely the opposite.”
It started on their cattle country in the 1980s and was first noticed because stocking rates were dropping.
“Our best grazing country was getting out-competed by our country which was worst,” Mr Woods said.
“We looked further and saw this little creeping thing which came up from the creeks and nothing else grew near it.
“It’s allelopathic effect poisoned everything around it enabling the weed to regenerate without competition like belahs droping their leaves and nothing grows under the tree.
“However, once it is killed that’s not the end of the problem.
“You need lots of rain to wash out the toxins to enable new vegetation to establish.”
In a 10 year period the Woods finishing capacity of steers had dropped by more than 60 per cent due to the competition of lippia in their best producing paddocks.
“We worked out it’s not harmful to stock, but they do poorly grazing it,” he said.
Being very big on weed control, the Woods spray annually for harrisia cactus, tiger pear and boxthorn and other noxious weeds.
“We are quite fastidious about our weeds for our farming and grazing, but we don’t have the funding to control lippia on all our country,” Mr Woods said.
“We first tried spot spraying and while that killed one area for a time, we had very little understanding of the weed.
“It seems most of it came this way via travelling stock routes unfortunately.”
Lippia is a very passionate topic of Mr Woods’ father, Tony, who was chairman of the National Lippia Working Group which gained funding to research and publish a booklet on the weed.
In 2003 lippia was estimated to cost the environment $1.8 billion per annum and estimated to cover 5.3 million hectares in the Murray Darling Basin.
“The horse had bolted for us, but dad did a whole lot of work trying to stop the spread of lippia, especially into marshland country like the Macquarie Marshes,” Mr Woods said.
“We conducted full trials on our property for some extensive number of years in plots which are now decommissioned.”
Robert Woods said they had tried everything to control the weed and decided the best option would be biological control.
“It is the best option for the industry and the most economical in my opinion.
“But to get this you have to jump through a lot of hoops because we haven’t done a very good job in Australia of biological control.”
The group gained funding in 2005 for a bipartisan USDA biological control study however ran out of funding in 2008.
In all these years the Woods have found flooding doesn’t kill it (seeds can last long periods in water) and dry weather doesn’t kill it.
“We’ve got improved pastures of bambasti and purple pigeon grass that can’t compete, we’ve done cell grazing, leaving much higher biomass to choke it, we’ve slashed to mulch down over it – none of these things have halted its progress,” Mr Woods said.
He said constant annual spraying at high rates would help control and in some areas country would have to be cleared to enable spraying.
“But in a lot of cases in NSW that’s pretty tricky.
“The way NSW legislation has gone we seem to have little political support with land clearing laws.”
The property had been in the family for three generations and Mr Woods said they had no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“It’s not a finite resource, what we are doing.
“Unless landholders can get into their country so they can plough, then spray to control, then repasture it, they are dead ducks.
“For many eradication would become an uneconomically viable proposition.
But people need to learn to critically analyse.”
Excellence award winners
State dryland wheat championship judge, Paul Parker, Young, said the Woods family is very “switched-on operators”.
“Their weed control management is impeccable as is their winter and summer crop rotation programs.
“Mr Woods soil-tests 15pc of paddocks every year and pre-plants nitrogen after looking at the previous year’s yield and modifies that depending on what has been taken out.”
Mr Parker said the weed control program uses herbicide well.
“He uses a range of herbicides in his toolkit for resistant black oats and barnyard grass covered by Group A chemicals of Balance and Flame then double-knocks Gramoxol plus rotates Roundup with Gramoxol to limit resistance.”