Safe use of Herbicides

15 September 2023

Invasive and introduced weeds pose a significant challenge to Tasmanian agriculture and the Tasmanian landscape. These unwelcome intruders encroach upon our bush and agricultural land including productive grazing and cropping areas, orchards, vineyards and berry farms. The associated cost of control and the loss of production is millions of dollars annually.

Integrated pest management and the use of selective and broad-spectrum herbicides are essential tools to produce an economically viable return. While some producers are adopting ‘organic’ methods not all can afford that option especially broad acre crops such as wheat, barley, and oats.

Inaction on weeds also puts the state's natural biodiversity and distinctive landscape at risk. A comprehensive, long-term strategy for tackling weeds like blackberries and gorse needs to be maintained. Gorse, for instance, is a prime example of a species that has taken root across Tasmania, demanding constant vigilance due to its prolific seed production which can persist for over 25 years.

Modern farming is increasingly embracing integrated weed management practices that reduce reliance on herbicides. These multifaceted approaches involve techniques such as manual removal, bio-controls, and the targeted cut-and-paint method for larger, woody weeds. The adoption of non-chemical methods in conjunction with herbicides not only limits the development of resistance in weeds but also reduces the amount of chemicals applied.

Broad spectrum herbicides have been the major enabler of minimum and zero-till farming in Australia the benefits of which include: less use of selective herbicides, a reduced Carbon footprint of farming as less fuel is used, improved soil Carbon levels and soil health in general due to less cultivation, increased water use efficiency (WUE) due to more ground cover and better soil health, and reduced run-off and erosion.

There is a comprehensive regulatory framework governing the registration, use and application of herbicides. Not only are the prescribed rates and conditions of application listed but health and safety parameters are set such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), safe work practices when handling chemicals and proper clean-up procedures post spraying. The chemicals should be safe to use when done so in accordance with the label instructions and accepted safe practice.

Employers, be they Local Government or farmers, bear the responsibility of safeguarding the well-being of workers engaged in weed management and control and must ensure that they receive adequate training in the proper use and application of herbicides.

The battle against introduced and invasive weeds demands a concerted effort, combining both chemical and non-chemical strategies, all while adhering to the stringent regulatory framework. Through such comprehensive measures we can safeguard the integrity of our natural environment, agricultural land and the health of our communities.