The wet may be just beginning, but according to scientists and
producers working with the Tropical Savannas CRC, it's time to
start planning a fire regime for next year's dry.
The extraordinary amount of rain this year has resulted in a large
build-up of grass and herbage - which has been great for grazing,
but good seasons also encourage woody weeds like rubbervine.
Tropical Savannas CRC weed specialist Tony Grice of CSIRO says
producers should consider fire as one of the best methods of
keeping down rubbervine.
"Fire is a useful tool for some important weeds as most pasture and
herbage species will regenerate quickly after fire," he said.
Rubbervine now covers a very large amount of land in north-west
"People's best estimates are that it is now broadly distributed
over a range of 35 million hectares, with up to 700,000 hectares
infested with the weed," said Tony. "It's mainly around creeks as
it likes areas that receive extra water, but it grows on flood-out
Grazier Roger Landsberg, who runs Trafalgar Station west of
Charters Towers, is a firm advocate of burning off as part of
managing a property. "I use burning where I can. The main reason is
for weed control of rubbervine and parkinsonia, but it can also
play a big role in halting the build-up of eucalypt suckers and the
thickening of vegetation."
Roger said that over the past 30 years burning as a land management
tool had fallen into disfavour because of changes in grazing and
The drought-tolerant Bos indicus and the introduction of
supplementary feeding, combined with lower prices, meant that
producers are now running larger numbers of cattle. Many producers
would rather use the grass for production than fire management.
"Over 30 years we've seen a lot of the open woodland become
thicker," Roger said. "Burning kept the vegetation in balance.
Also, the '80s and '90s were dry years and people that burnt didn't
have pasture regenerate," said Roger. "But even with a variable
climate like we have, fire can be used as a management tool, but it
has to be planned.
"Different paddocks or a paddock can be spelled on an annual basis
so that it allows the producer a number of options. He can either
use the grass as a drought mitigation option, burn it during the
dry season or after a storm. The other advantage of spelling is
that it allows the more desirable native grass species to set seed
and compete with the more undesirable species."
Both Tony and Roger warned that if producers and land managers
didn't take the opportunity to burn, there would also be a much
greater risk of wildfire next year as the weather became hotter and
"I've never seen a season like this: it's been magnificent," said
Roger. "It's too green and wet to burn now, but prior to next dry
season will be a good time."