Most of us have heard of fleas, but in case you haven’t, they’re wingless parasites found worldwide. They enjoy nothing more than biting humans and animals to feed off their blood. In the process, they can transmit diseases from one person or animal to another.
So, it’s perhaps apt that one of the weeds causing the most issues for Australian farmers is called fleabane. It’s become a major cropping weed in some parts of Australia – most notably the southern parts of Queensland and the northern parts of NSW – and is an emerging weed control issue in other cropping areas of the nation.
What is fleabane?
The common name of fleabane came into usage centuries ago worldwide because it was believed the plant was a beneficial insect repellant. Science has since debunked the myth – it might be a strong aromatic, but there’s no proof that it can keep fleas or other insects away.
There are several varieties of fleabane in Australia, but there is one that is causing the most problems. Flaxleaf fleabane or Conzya bonariensis is a surface-germinating weed. It’s a native of South America and was most likely introduced to Australia with horticultural plants shortly after European settlement.
While fleabane has been in Australia for a long time, it wasn’t a significant issue for farmers. It was mainly thought to be a roadside weed and was controlled on farms with the widespread tillage programs that were in place. Since Australia’s cropping farmers have moved to a reduced tilling practice, fleabane has become more widespread and a much bigger issue.
Today, fleabane is estimated to cause revenue losses in excess of $43 million for grain producers in Australia.
Is fleabane a big issue? You bet!
Why is fleabane a big issue for Australian farmers?
There are several reasons why fleabane has become such as major issue for Australian farmers:
- Prolific seed production – a single flaxleaf fleabane plant produces around 100,000 seeds, perfectly formed to be dispersed by wind, water, animals and vehicles over significant distances.
- Ability for seeds to survive – while most fleabane seeds lose their viability in the first year or so in the surface soil, some can maintain their viability for several years.
- Herbicide resistance – most importantly, flaxleaf fleabane and other varieties of fleabane have developed a resistance to herbicides. Australia isn’t the only country where this is the case. Resistance to herbicides is a key issue for most other countries where fleabane is found. In fact, in some countries it’s now been declared a super-weed.
- In addition, irrespective of herbicide resistance, once a fleabane plant is mature, it is very difficult to kill with herbicide alone.
How can fleabane be controlled?
The characteristics of fleabane and the issues highlighted above make fleabane a major weed problem and very difficult to control. However, it can be controlled by applying an integrated management plan.
This may include:
- Actively targeting small weeds on emergence – generally in spring – with selective herbicides.
- Crop competition, which has been shown to suppress flaxleaf growth and seed production. Therefore, it’s best for farmers to avoid wide rows between crops.
- Controlling fleabane not only in cropping paddocks, but also in surrounding paddocks. Flaxleaf fleabane flourishes in non-cropping areas – such as along fence lines – so it’s important to manage these areas as well to prevent new incursions.
- Maintain good on-farm hygiene.
- Disturbing the soil to create an environment that is unfavourable for germination.
The last point is very important. With the resistance to herbicides, spraying alone will not control fleabane. Research has shown including tillage operations can have a significant impact on the distribution of seeds in the soil and therefore reduce the number of seedlings emerging.
It’s been shown that tillage can reduce fleabane emergence by at least 90 per cent and often much more.
Bute Discs can help control fleabane
If fleabane is an issue for your farm, Bute Discs patented disc chains are part of the solution. Our disc chains provide better weed control results from fewer passes. At the same time, by using our tillage system, you’ll improve your soil.
Our disc chain system disturbs the soil and uproot weeds without touching the subsoil. This surface tillage method prevents the issues common with deeper tillage practices, such as erosion and structural decline.
The other advantage of Bute Discs is the versatility, that allows you to disturb the soil to the depth you require on your farm. Our discs come in two gap sizes, with the choice of cutting discs and standard discs. Plus, you can have up to four different weight options on your disc chain. This allows you to adapt your disc chain to suit your farm and your conditions.
To find out how Bute Discs can help you control fleabane on your farm, contact us today.