The noxious weeds list that farmers have lived by will be torn up within months and replaced by a new General Biosecurity Duty, putting more emphasis on farm management.
Although penalties will still apply to landholders who fail to control weeds under direction from local councils, the system run under the Biosecurity Act 2015 will move to more risk-based assessment.
The new system is intended to be flexible and more responsive to local environments, with priority lists determined by the 11 Local Land Service areas in the state.
But already the new system is raising some serious questions about weed management and its ability to prevent the spread of weeds with some weeds taken off the priority list that have been a bugbear in districts for ages.
For instance, in the south-east area, African lovegrass, a weed that has blighted thousands of hectares of pasture north of Cooma, has been taken off the priority list – at this stage.
Brett Jones, weeds control officer with Snowy-Monaro, says it is a matter of redefining what priorities are. He says for instance it is highly unlikely anyone north of Cooma would be prosecuted if they did not control lovegrass as it is so prolific. But in other areas of the Monaro, it may be necessary to take action, if, for instance one farm has an outcrop of lovegrass, and it is in danger of spreading to another farm.
Mr Jones has been active lately with prosecutions in the last 18 months, with one landholder fined $2500 with $4000 court costs after not controlling St John’s Wort on his land. “There are still significant penalties there,” he said.
Mr Jones also has had to be wary with the first known outcrop of Orange Hawk Weed, seen for the first time in NSW, discovered on Snowy Plains. Also an outbreak of the dreaded Coolatai grass was discovered along the Monaro Highway, probably growing from seed dropped by a travelling slasher.
He said there many unknowns with the new Biosecurity Act and as far as he knew no NSW weeds officers had received training on how to use it in their work as yet.
He said it could be better and more responsive to weed issues in particular areas.
Scott Charlton, manager of invasive species projects with the Department of Primary Industries, said there will no longer be a declaration on noxious weeds from the middle of the year. “Weeds such as African lovegrass will be managed under a General Biosecurity Duty - everyone has a duty to manage weeds.” Regional weed committees would also define priority weeds. “In a sense this will become the de facto noxious weeds list. People will still have legal obligations to manage weeds.”