Invasive weed has farmers on alert

NORTH Coast farmers have reacted swiftly to a red alert over a dangerous exotic weed which could overtake valuable farmland.

At least six possible sightings have been reported to authorities.

But fortunately so far, according to Far North Coast County Council spokesman Ian Jamieson, all have proved negative.

Mr Jamieson said yesterday the landholders had responded to television commercials warning about the possible spread of Siam weed, likened to lantana, which scientists say could ruin grazing land and canefields.

Authorities are worried that outbreaks of the tropical plant pest could spread from Tully and Townsville south to Lismore its tiny, fluffy seeds carried by vehicles, machinery, on people's clothes or on animals.

A native of South America, the Siam weed (chromolaena odorata) has consumed huge tracts of forest and farmland in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Mr Jamieson said the county council, which operates under the business name Far North Coast Weeds had received "half a dozen inquiries about the weed" with landholders fearing they had spotted it either on their own or a neighbouring property.

Although all reports turned out to negative, he said the plants found had some similar characteristics and inspectors had been able to give advice on dealing with troublesome weeds.

Yesterday the NSW Department of Primary Industries also said it was supporting a nationwide survey to establish the full extent of Siam weed infestations.

DPI weeds agronomist Bob Trounce said Siam weed infestations were known to exist in the Tully, Townsville and Thuringowa areas of north Queensland, but the weed had the potential to spread into northern New South Wales where conditions favoured it.

He warned early identification was essential to avoid costly eradication programs which had been necessary in Queensland.

"Siam weed has an extremely fast growth rate and is a prolific seed producer," Mr Trounce said.

"The plant is toxic to stock and has been known to degrade agricultural lands in South-East Asia to the extent that this land has now been abandoned.

"While Siam weed tends to grow more abundantly along watercourses, it has also been found growing on granite hillsides."

Mr Trounce said Siam weed was an erect or sprawling shrub up to six metres high in the open or 20 metres high as a climbing vine.

Its leaves are almost triangular with a "pitchfork" three-vein pattern and white to pink-mauve flowers appear mainly from May to July.

o If you think you have Siam weed report it by calling toll free 1800 084 881 or report it on line at www.weeds.org.au



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