2021 August: Spray Drift Investigations. Julia Creek (Queensland)

Biosecurity Queensland investigating two spray drift complaints in new outback cropping area

25 August 2021


Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed it has launched criminal investigations into two chemical spray drift complaints in one of the state’s newest cropping areas.

The Flinders River catchment in the north-west has been touted as one of the country’s new frontiers for cotton growing, with New South Wales-based irrigators making significant investments in the past two years.

But some recent incidents of chemical spray drift have put the area’s already established cattle industry on edge.

Third-generation Julia Creek cattle-producer Ryan Hacon said he had not been directly impacted by the problem, but it had been going on in the district for the past two years.

“It’s something we haven’t had to deal with before and it is a fairly large concern,” he said.

“We’ve got a really good area — everyone knows each other, everyone’s friendly.

Mr Hacon said he had flown over areas where trees and pasture had been damaged by herbicides drifting across boundary fences.

“[It has damaged] mainly white woods and cork woods and trees like that,” he said.

“It also damages pastures, especially all the broad-leaf herbages we get after the wet that really put the weight on our cattle.”

‘Criminal investigation’

Two separate incidents relating to one property in the area are now being investigated by Biosecurity Queensland.

Spray drift specialist Mary O’Brien said investigations like this could be “long and involved”.

“The biosecurity investigations are actually a criminal investigation,” Ms O’Brien said.

“They’ll be looking for records, they’ll be looking for weather conditions, the equipment that was used and if the product was used at the right rate.”

Ms O’Brien said while there were legal implications with spray drift, it could be mitigated using other methods.

“I believe education and information is a much better path to go down,” she said.

“But they are certainly within their rights to contact Biosecurity Queensland, and the faster they do that the more evidence they can collect in their investigation.”

Development on the horizon

Mr Hacon said many landholders in the area were determined to fix the spray drift issues before the industry develops more.

“There’s definitely a few people that are quite negative about [cropping] now,” he said.

More cropping development has been forecast in north-west Queensland, with the state government announcing a 145,000-megalitre release of water from the Flinders River and at least two dam projects hoping to attract government funding.

Mr Hacon said he would like to see more enforcement of regulations if the industry is going to develop further.

“There needs to be some sort of policing or structure if there are issues with drift,” he said.