QUT research draws on Bega Valley farmers to combat African lovegrass

Members of the QUT and Bega Valley landholders with a roller wiper, found to be the most effective African lovegrass control method in their research. Photo: Supplied
Members of the QUT and Bega Valley landholders with a roller wiper, found to be the most effective African lovegrass control method in their research. Photo: Supplied

African lovegrass plant is a headache for many farmers in the Bega Valley and for many years, local landholders have been inventing their own ways to combat the dense and pervasive weed. 

The Queensland University of Technology set out to harvest this local knowledge, interviewing Bega Valley landholders about lovegrass on their properties to develop a clear scientific strategy to eradicate the plant. 

Associate Professor Jennifer Firn from QUT’s School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences partnered with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Local Lands Services and Bega Landcare to develop seven hypotheses with local farmers, which were then tested on 15 of their properties.

Professor Firn said developing the theses with the help of farmers was “citizen science in action” and improved the quality of the research. 

“We actually found the majority of the farmer’s hypotheses about lovegrass held true, which shows us that knowledge from the ground level is very valuable,” she said. 

“This approach allowed science to operate in a different way, we are trying to build upon real, tangible knowledge, because its already out there.”

Bill Taylor has been dealing with lovegrass on his Springvale property for 30 years, but said the problem intensified about eight years ago. 

“When the last drought broke, it spread across the farm almost overnight, just turned the whole thing into a desert,” he said. 

Mr Taylor said lovegrass affects production, but also restricts mobility on farm, and creates serious safety issues for motorbikes and tractors in paddocks because of its size and density. 

Mr Taylor bough a secondhand homemade roller wiper about 10 years ago to control the weed with herbicide. 

His roller wiper, paired with the introduction of new grass species such as oat and rye grasses and rotational grazing, has allowed him to reclaim about two-thirds of his property from the grips of lovegrass. 

“You can’t eradicate it, you just get it down to a level where other grasses can compete, it’s a percentage game,” he said. 

Despite its previous poor reputation as a management technique, Mr Taylor’s roller wiping method proved to be one of the most effective and cost efficient of the hypotheses. 

In comparison, mechanically slashing African lovegrass and putting a large number of cattle into the paddock was thought to be effective, but the trials found it was more expensive and actually increased infestation.

Professor Firn said there had been a lot of interest in the research project from the wider scientific community. 

“I think science is undergoing a slow revolution, its relevance to the real world is seen as more important now than ever before, and this kind of research really embodies that idea,” she said. 

“The questions we asked were the questions of the community, the research is rooted in the community interest and that strengthens trust in our results.” 

Mr Taylor agrees.

“Having the trial conducted on my property gave me more confidence that lovegrass can be controlled,” he said.

Mr Taylor was happy to take part in the research which reminded him of his university days studying agriculture science. He continues to make his property available for land management trials.