Many ways to manage a weed

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Jackie Steel

Department of Environment and Primary Industries, AgriBio, Centre for AgriBiosciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia.

Cite this article as:

Steel, J. (2013). Many ways to manage a weed. Plant Protection Quarterly 28(2), 30.

With the title “Many ways to manage a weed” the Weed Society of Victoria was happy to present a range of approaches to weed management. From the traditional methods of herbicide application to newer but well-established biological control and the emerging awareness of the role of genetics in weed management, we covered it all. There was a review of the successes of co-ordinated control strategies under the Weeds of National Significance (WoNS) program an update on how weed legislation will be changing and a call-to-arms for the weeds community to lobby for effective change in support of more weed research.

Happily, nearly all were able to contribute some written communication to these proceedings, however, for those that could not attend the seminar I can reveal that you missed a couple of spectacular visuals from our presenters. Tony Dugdale managed to illustrate the impacts of aquatic weeds, despite most of them being submerged species, with some great photos of our waterways, both natural and man-made. The tables in his paper summarising both the effectiveness and limitations of herbicides and techniques to control aquatic weeds will surely be a great resource for people addressing aquatic weed problems.

The other spectacular visual came during Greg Lefoe and Matt Stephenson’s biological control presentation. Greg described the benefits of biological control and their cheapness relative to other options for managing widespread weeds. Perhaps this is in part due to the human factor in biological control. For example, following the release of rust for Asparagus weeds, community groups quickly caught on to the innovation of spore water which can be applied so broadly that we saw a photo of one group even employing a fire truck to deliver the spores where they were needed!

John Forster was able to explain the basics of genetic manipulation to the group of generally uninitiated. I urge you to find his description of genetic research that extends beyond Genetic Modification (GM) in the paper submitted by him and others from Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ new research facility Agribio. In a nutshell, genetic technologies could be useful across weed identification, surveillance, early warning, identifying and overcoming genetic resistance, increasing the virulence of biological controls and engineering new ones, and reducing the impacts of weeds. And weed research can offer something back to agriculture if we can impart some of the competitive traits of weeds back into the plants that we really want to grow.

John Thorpe provided a frank précis on the successes of the WoNS program and the opportunities it has not yet realised. The seven principals of management have been widely adopted across jurisdictions and John reminded us that grant applications do better if they address these principals. Seven WoNS have reached a maintenance phase in their coordination and this leaves room for the commencement of coordinated efforts with the new WoNS. Whilst there have been many successes, John was honest in highlighting that there was a lack of monitoring weed distributions, impacts and management by the program [paper not published in this proceedings].

Anthony Kachenko from Nursery and Garden Industry Australia took a positive approach to attempts to change gardeners’ behaviour with weedy ornamentals. He saw a link between the ecosystem services that his industry provides with weeds that threaten those functions. Although the World Wildlife Fund predicted that voluntary measures would fail, the industry must be buoyed by research that from their list of plants that should not be grown, nurseries were not growing any WoNS or sleeper weeds and only 8% of weeds identified by the “Grow me instead” program were found to be under cultivation in nurseries. Here’s hoping the national labelling scheme will have at least as much success.

Our new State biosecurity legislation is shaping up to be simpler to understand and administer with only two categories of declaration. There will be general obligations for both, but category one weeds will have further requirements for government and landholders.

We finished the day with a roaming presentation from Andrew Cox that precipitated many a discussion at afternoon tea about how weed researchers and practitioners could improve weed management by speaking out about what needs to be done.

Finally, after a day of discussions about how weed management has changed over time and will continue to change in to the future with new technologies and approaches/policies, the society was sad to acknowledge the biggest change it has experienced after decades of stability. Our long-serving secretary Ros Shepherd has retired and we thank her for the enormous contribution she has made to the society and to our success in sharing weed knowledge across the state. We wish her great joy in having a lot more free time to enjoy her travelling and walking in the environments she has helped to save from weed invasion.

First published online: June 24, 2013