The direct cost of Pests and weed chemicals combined with production losses is costing farmers a combined $5.3 billion a year
With three record seasons in a row for grain croppers and high prices for livestock, our local farm industry should be creating countless millionaire farmers each season. But that’s not the reality.
Instead, a new report details how direct costs of$3.8 billion a year to control vertebrate pests and weeds and production losses of $1.5 billion are hitting hip pockets hard.
The combined total of $5.3 billion a year is a staggering amount to lose at the farmgate. With weeds alone contributing 82% of the total cost.
In addition, add to those direct losses the cost of the enormous slice out of all farms working hours that are devoted to managing pests and weeds, that time and effort represents around 72% of total wages costs.
Farmers will have to start taking notice of these input costs and ways to reduce them as they have escalated from $3 billion when the previous survey was undertaken in 2018.
Weeds are suspect number one
From the Bureau of Agricultural findings in the report, weeds are estimated to cost farmers $4,344 million in an average production year (averaged over 5 years to 2020-21) in private control expenditures and residual agricultural losses.
This is the biggest cost hit to farmers, with weeds representing about five times more than the corresponding cost, $866 million, estimated for the five pest animals considered in this study.
When you take a look at where the total $4,344 million of weed money is spent, it is largely driven by costs attributed to cropping systems with an estimated cost of $3,784 million a year. And that’s about seven times what it costs livestock production systems, at $559 million.
There is a distinct difference in the distribution of costs, with estimated management expenditure in cropping systems at three times the estimated residual losses. While in livestock production systems management expenditure and residual losses are similar.
This likely reflects the relative ease that weed management can be integrated into crop production processes, which allows farmers to reduce residual agricultural losses to a greater extent when compared to livestock production.
This report has focussed on an average year but weed management expenditure and residual losses are likely to vary each year depending on climatic conditions.
Feral animals are also costly
Five pest animals collectively cost private landholders $866 million a year. Including foxes, rabbits, feral pigs, wild dogs and goats also making a relatively small contribution to the total.
For each pest animal, the residual losses occur across the range of agricultural industries, as identified in the following listing of total costs for key species.
• European foxes preying on sheep was estimated to cost farmers $51 million in an average year (averaged over 5 years to 2020–21) in lost sheep meat and wool production, and $147 million in control expenditure.
• European rabbits competing with livestock for pasture was estimated to cost $114 million in an average year (averaged over 5 years to 2020–21) in lost sheep meat, wool, and beef production, and $82 million in control expenditure.
• Feral pigs foraging on crops and preying on sheep was estimated to cost $46 million in an average year (averaged over 5 years to 2020–21) in lost crops, sheep meat and wool production, and $100 million in control expenditure.
• Wild dogs preying on beef cattle and sheep was estimated to cost $73 million in an average year (averaged over 5 years to 2020–21) in lost beef, sheep meat and wool production, and $230 million in control expenditure.
Evaluating the overall costs
The key points in the report about the cost to farmers for weed control and eradicating pest animals are noted here:
• Weeds were responsible for the bulk of the estimated total cost (83%). The share of weeds varied across jurisdictions with the share in Western Australia and South Australia (94% and 93% respectively) the largest.
• New South Wales accounted for the largest share of estimated costs (26%), followed by Western Australia (25%), and Victoria and Queensland (each 17%).
• The estimated total cost is 12% of the Local Value of Production (LVP) of all affected industries (beef, sheep meat, and all crops). For weeds, which affect all these industries, this percentage is 10%. For pest animals, which largely affect beef, sheep meat, wool, and a small subset of crops (by feral pigs), this percentage is 3%. This pattern is observed across all jurisdictions.
• Across jurisdictions, the cost as a percentage of LVP under threat varied from 1% to 4% for pest animals and 3% to 16% for weeds. For weeds, the three jurisdictions with values over 10% (Western Australia, South Australia, and New South Wales) are those with the largest cropping sectors. Weeds in cropping account for more than 70% of the agricultural sector cost in all jurisdictions except Tasmania and the Northern Territory.