Friday, April 04, 2008

Gamba Grass to be Declared a Weed

The Queensland government has succumbed to pressure from the greenies to declare gamba grass a Class 2 weed in Queensland. This is despite its role as an extremely valuable pasture species in the far north of Queensland.

The text of the Minister's statement is below:

Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries -The Honourable Tim Mulherin
Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gamba grass to be declared a Class 2 weed

Gamba grass is to be declared a Class 2 weed in Queensland. The decision announced today by Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries Tim Mulherin ends an extensive consultation process. “This is a sensible, balanced position that takes into account concerns from environmental and industry groups,” Mr Mulherin, said. “The reality is that gamba grass has the potential to become a major weed if not controlled but it also provides valuable cattle fodder, particularly in drought conditions. “Gamba grass is native to tropical Africa and can grow up to 4m tall. It exists in scattered areas, primarily across the Cape York and Gulf regions.’’

“It is estimated that it has been planted on around 18,000 hectares, based on the quantity of seed sold. “The decision will stop the sale of gamba grass seeds, require landholders to control it and require local governments to include it in their pest management plans for all areas.’’

Mr Mulherin said the decision did not force landowners, who had already planted the seed to provide fodder for their cattle, to immediately eradicate it from managed pastures. “But it does mean they will have to carefully control any potential spread,” he said. “This decision is to ensure that gamba grass does not get out of hand. “It is a serious offence to introduce, keep or supply a Class 2 pest without a permit issued by the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Penalties of up to $30,000 apply.’’

DPI&F will produce guidelines and an enforcement policy for landowners, information on management and if necessary, research on control practices. Mr Mulherin said the decision had not been made lightly. “It was important that the economic, environmental and social impacts of the plant were carefully weighed against its benefits,” he said.

While the regulatory steps necessary to enact the Class 2 declaration are carried out, an emergency pest notice preventing the further sale of gamba grass seed will be in place from mid-April.
[from the Ministers media statement]

This decision follows a similar ban in WA, introduced a month or so back.

Gamba grass is a very valuable pasture species, a major contributor to fodder sources in Africa [ its origin], South America, Asia and Australia. The latter three are areas where it has been introduced , mostly around the 1960s and 1970s, and where the plant has made extremely valuable contributions to fodder, both for direct grazing, and as cut and carry feed.

A decision is pending in the NT.

The issue has been driven by the green movement, with a lot of emotional material, and the media has played to that. As is common, the response from agriculture has been more muted, but the media is not listening.

A lot of misinformation on the plant has been used by the green movement to achieve their aims.

Unmanaged gamba will grow tall, and is a fire issue in the dry season. Absolutely true! But managed by grazing, mowing or similar measures to be kept short, dramatically reduces seed production and seed quality as seed production is forced into the dry period of the year, at least in seasonally wet/dry regions where it has been most useful. While not eliminated, a reduction of well over 90% in seed yield can be achieved. The fodder consumed if grazed also is very major contributer to animal production, especially in the dry season or early wet season as the plant responds very quickly to moisture, including heavy dew and short quick showers. Part of the reason for this has been elucidated over recent years, and is related to nitrogen accumulation in the root system - that also helps with the excellent biomass yields too.

It is also interesting to speculate on the role of gamba grass as a high yielding perennial cellulosic source in these regions. Afterall, the US is forging ahead with plans to develop switchgrass, a similar "weedy" grass found on the edge of many US mid west crop fields, as a cellulosic feedstock for new generation ethanol production.

There is no doubt that biomass production from gamba grass in areas receiving over 1000mm annual rainnfall in the wet / dry tropics is excellent. Could it have a future as a biomass crop?

It is an interesting option worth pursuing............and remember that one of the definitions for a weed "is a plant for which a use has not yet been found". Gamba grass already has a role as a fodder plant, and maybe there are more options too.

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