'It's a disaster': Farmers pestered by management scheme
INVASIVE pests of a different kind are finding their way into letterboxes across the Southern Downs this month as reminder notices arrive for the controversial Invasive Pests Control Scheme.
Landowners have until September 17 to submit their control works form to the Southern Downs Regional Council to demonstrate they've done their bit to protect the region from weeds and feral animals.
Failure to comply can cost landowners a levy anywhere from $500 into the thousands.
According to the council website, the program's first year resulted in 'unprecedented levels of weed control throughout the region' but as the scheme enters its third year, many landholders say they're still scratching their heads and wondering what the point of it all is, especially during drought.
Warwick producer Bill Gross said he was already doing what the council wanted and had been for more than five decades.
"It didn't really change anything,” Mr Gross said.
"You can't run cattle on the property if there's boxthorn so I've always cleaned my property.”
The additional pressure of time and money, however, weighed on Mr Gross who spent recent weeks cutting down and spraying weeds to ensure compliance.
The contractor Mr Gross employed to tackle his prickly pear next week will cost him $95 an hour and he predicts it could take up to 20 hours to complete.
"It's a disaster putting it on people in the middle of a drought,” he said.
"People are broke.
"I know one man that faces a charge of more than $5000 and he is really disturbed about it.”
Irrigator Lawrence Ryan said the scheme should be abandoned during drought because the dry soil rendered many measures a waste of time and money.
"Trying to poison anything at the moment is a waste because you need moisture for anything to die,” Mr Ryan said.
"We shouldn't need to dish out thousands of extra dollars now when we could wait for a better time to do it.”
According to Mr Ryan, drought creates new problems for pest management that landholders must contend with.
"Landowners do their utmost to control wild dogs but being so dry they're coming further and further into open country where they haven't been before,” he said.
"Landholders can't be responsible for wild dogs that just wander onto their property, they can't eradicate them.”
Over at Echo Valley Farm, the scheme only added to an ever-growing pile of paperwork.
"I'm not sure what it achieved to be honest,” owner Randal Breen said.
"I believe people managing their land appropriately probably don't need to be threatened with penalties.
"I do think it could create some anxiety for people who otherwise don't really need it.”
Mr Breen suggested council could be taking a more innovative, rather than punitive approach to encouraging agricultural pest management.
"There's some good options in terms of ground cover and things like natural sequence farming,” he said.
"They could offer farmers free education sessions to show them options with alternative farming methods to reduce invasive weeds.”
Their feedback differs from that told to Mayor Tracy Dobie, who said she'd noted a strong change in sentiment over the years.
"The feedback I hear is overwhelmingly positive,” Cr Dobie said.
"There have been some really good success stories, particularly with the rabbit population.
"As I was driving out to Leyburn over the weekend I noticed a lot of the tree pear cleared, which means those paddocks are now open for grazing.”
SDRC has undertaken an independent evaluation of the scheme that took community and staff feedback into account.
SDRC reports the results of the review will become available 'in the near future'.