THE Department of Agriculture and Food has warned farmers to start checking their livestock and paddocks for signs of annual ryegrass toxicity as the organism which causes the disease is spreading.
DAFWA scientists have warned most areas in the Wheatbelt were now known to contain ARGT organisms and that the Lakes District and surrounding areas north to Hyden could be ‘hot spots’ for ARGT this year.
The disease costs Western Australian farmers an estimated $40 million each year in lost production and livestock deaths, and economist David Kessell said a new map of ARGT affected areas showed the potential for the disease was spreading.
“The organisms that cause the disease are now present from Northampton, throughout the agricultural areas and the coastal plain through to Esperance,” he said.
Mr Kessell said pasture paddocks that were in crop last season were particularly at risk.
“It is important that farmers in at-risk areas look for deformed ryegrass heads and maybe yellow slime,” he said.
“If they have any concerns they should get a kit from a department office and send a sample to be tested.
”Farmers should also run their livestock for 200 to 300 metres to see if there are any clinical signs of ARGT, details of which are available on the department’s website.”
There are a number of solutions available to help manage the risk of ARGT, including the use of the twist fungus as a biological control agent.
Another option is sowing the Safeguard ryegrass variety, which resists the gall-forming nematode, resulting in the formation of very few, if any, nematode and bacterial galls.
“There has been much interest in Safeguard for use in the medium to high rainfall livestock zone,” Mr Kessell said.
“Department research has shown that while the variety has a huge effect in the first year, it needs to be managed carefully as sheep prefer it and can eat it down to such low levels that they limit its effect in the second year.
“Pasture management is another useful strategy to control ARGT through the use of chemical manipulation.”
He said farmers looking for more information on managing the risk of ARGT should visit the department’s website, at www.agric.wa.gov.au