Possible solutions to the horror that prickly acacia has become in western Queensland, and the threat it poses to the Lake Eyre Basin, were canvassed when the Queensland Parliament Agriculture and Environment Committee held public hearings for its inquiry into the impacts of invasive weeds in Hughenden and Barcaldine recently.
Landholders at Barcaldine laid out the costs, both in controlling the weed and in loss of production and falling land values, after Desert Channels Queensland chairwoman, Leanne Kohler said the spread of prickly acacia was far worse than most ever thought possible, and getting a solution was harder than anyone thought possible as well.
Time bomb: the threat posed by prickly acacia
- 12m ha heavily infested
- 22m ha lightly infested
- Poised to enter Lake Eyre Basin catchment
- Spread by water and animals
- Millions of hectares unsupervised, thanks to absentee landlords
“From DCQ’s perspective, we are trying to stop the seed from spreading into the Lake Eyre Basin, but it’s moving at a terrific pace,” Leanne said. “Weeds cost – graziers don’t have dollars to spend on other things, so it becomes a whole of community issue.”
Errol Entriken has been dealing with prickly acacia on Sesbania at Corfield for 50 years, and he told the hearing that frost was what prevented the weed from spreading further south, and they were few and far between in recent years.
Some years he’s spent up to $80,000 on control.
“In my opinion, control is a waste of time; eradication is the only way,” he said.
“Twice I’ve had it down to a handful of trees, then you have the collapse of wool, or cattle prices, and there’s no money to spend.
“Then there’s a rain event and it comes up like grass and you have to start again.”
DCQ initially evaluated the cost of treating every tree at Sesbania to be $480,000 and the cost of a follow-up treatment at maybe $100,000.
“After that, it depends on the seed left. It’s a time bomb, really.”
He said without the subsidy offered by DCQ, managing prickly acacia was virtually impossible.
Adding to Errol’s thoughts was Naomi Wehl from Audreystone at Barcaldine, who said that trusted operators had to be employed, “or you’re throwing money away, if you don’t get good kill rates”.
She said it was fortunate they were in partnership with DCQ because they offered a coordinated approach to the problem.
She and her husband came to the district a decade ago, when the price of the property was considered a better option at the time, even factoring in prickly acacia control.
Replying to Joe Kelly’s question on whether the weed was a barrier to people buying up country, she said that if two places were side by side and one was infested, she knew which she’d pick.
According to Barcoo Shire Council deputy mayor, Mike Pratt, stock and station agents dealing with country in prickly acacia areas told him there was a general $15/acre discount for properties with an average infestation.
“People ring and ask if there’s an infestation. If the answer’s yes, that’s the end of the conversation.
“Up to now, people have been chasing land for fodder.”
Errol agreed that prickly acacia wasn’t only reducing carrying capacity but was reducing equity as well.
“Valuers are looking at lowering the value of the land,” he said. “People are just going to be moved off. It will destroy the Mitchell grass land, and the native animals that use it will disappear.”
Former Desert Channels chairman and Jundah grazier, Peter Douglas, told the hearing it was the unsupervised acres of land in the Channel Country that concerned him.
“The biggest problem we have at the moment is absentee landlords,” he said.
“People up round Errol are bringing in store cattle all the time.
“No-one’s there nine months of the time now, and the only people who see the country in a line from us to the Northern Territory border are helicopter pilots.
“No-one is driving the country anymore.”
When asked about the efficacy of codes of conduct, he said they weren’t worth a “boiled hatful of snow”, and the same went for the devolved responsibility to local governments.
He asked what the possibility was, when people went to sell their property, of not getting ministerial consent if they hadn’t abided by regulations.
As an example of how weed seed could spread, Peter said he’d bought 16 bales of hay in Longreach last year and when he asked for a weed-free declaration, was told he was the first person who’d asked for one.
He also told the inquiry that if chemical was going to be supplied, labour should be too.
“Everyone’s got the best of intentions but no time anymore,” he said.
Committee chairman, Joe Kelly, said there may be further hearings scheduled, after which a report and recommendations would be produced.