AgForce is calling for a rapid overhaul of the State Government’s outdated fire ant eradication program, in a bid to save southeast Queensland from a dangerous pest.
It follows revelations that the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Strategic Review – conducted two years ago – stated eradication was impossible under the current plan and an “urgent change of strategy” was needed.
Despite the warnings, none of the report’s 27 recommendations were implemented.
Meanwhile, fire ants continued to spread, with each outbreak outside the biosecurity zone costing an additional $1million in heightened surveillance and treatment.
In the past 12 months, thousands of nests have been detected – including four significant detections north, east, south and west of the biosecurity zone – and fire ants on the western side of the Great Dividing Range for the first time ever.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the window of opportunity to eradicate fire ants was now closing.
“Unless there is a rapid overhaul of governance, communication gaps, and compliance in the fire ant eradication program, the chance of successful eradication from southeast Queensland is diminishing,” he said.
“No one wants to live with fire ants forever. Everyone must do their almighty best to eradicate them in order to save our outdoor lifestyles, community open spaces, agriculture and native wildlife.”
While the State Government recently ramped up its community awareness, with brochures and billboards, it may be a case of too little too late.
“It beggars belief that both governments sat on this report for two years and did nothing to address the recommendations,” added Mr Guerin.
“The multi-million-dollar question now is – can the eradication program be salvaged and put back on track?”
Mr Guerin said AgForce had previously highlighted gaps in the program – to no avail.
“Many community members in urban and peri-urban landscapes are not aware everyone has a biosecurity obligation,” he said.
“Many do not know about movement restrictions on potential fire ant carriers such as soil, pot plants, turf and uncovered mulch. There are gaps such as hay movement amongst equestrian events, and fire ants are not included on pest inspection reports for property sales.”
AgForce has also joined a coalition of organisations calling on state and federal governments to prioritise the response to the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program Strategic Review.
The coalition wants to see more investment now in the hope of eradicating Australia’s fire ant infestation over the next decade.
The outdated review’s recommendations require an additional $300million on top of the existing national cost-share commitment of $411million for coordinated treatment over a larger biosecurity zone. This is on top of $367million funding spent on fire ant control, prior to 2017.
This issue is currently on the agenda of the Agriculture Ministers meeting to be held in Perth in July.
Mr Guerin added: “With fire ant detections close to the New South Wales border and west at Toowoomba, it is essential that an urgent decision is made on how to address this biosecurity threat.
“We need governments to make up for lost time and prioritise the reforms recommended in the outdated report before it’s too late.”