GUTTED:  Grazier Amanda Goody says her three properties, two near Mulgildie and one near Mundubbera, have been ravaged by dieback.
GUTTED: Grazier Amanda Goody says her three properties, two near Mulgildie and one near Mundubbera, have been ravaged by dieback. Alex Treacy

'Death and destruction': Inside the pasture dieback

"IT'S CACTUS.”

This is how Monto grazier Amanda Goody described her pastures which have been ravaged by dieback.

She and her family attended the North Burnett Ag Network meeting in Mount Perry in late-January hoping for strategies to combat the scourge, but they were to leave disappointed.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries senior extension officer Damien O'Sullivan told those gathered that the pasture dieback seemed to be losing its ferocity.

"This time last year, we were receiving hundreds of calls about the dieback, this year we generally haven't had many inquiries at all,” he said.

Mrs Goody said she found that hard to believe.

"Once you know what it looks like and you drive around, it's everywhere,” she said.

"It's all the way from here to Mundubbera.

"You look on the side of the road and see it.”

All three of her properties, two at Mulgildie and one near Mundubbera, are impacted.

"It's just ripped around everywhere,” she said.

"It goes yellow then it goes red, then it just goes black and disintegrates into nothingness.

"You can really see death and destruction.”

She describes sitting on her porch with husband Wayne and seeing, over a period time, the tell-tale yellow and red rippling up her hilly pastures, the opposite of watching grass grow.

For Mrs Goody, there's no doubt in her mind: the dieback is caused by an insidious breed of mealy bug, which she has been capturing on film in her pastures.

WAR: Grazier Amanda Goody is fighting a battle against mealy bugs on her three properties.
WAR: Grazier Amanda Goody is fighting a battle against mealy bugs on her three properties. Contributed

Both the department and Meat and Livestock Australia, which has been out to inspect the Goodys' properties, have not 100 per cent determined the mealy bugs are responsible for this particular wave of dieback, but their investigations are leading them in that direction.

Ray Morgan, a contractor working with MLA on the dieback who has visited the Goodys' property, described it as "pretty infested”.

He said MLA was "90 per cent certain” the mealy bugs were to blame.

As far as he is concerned, the dieback is getting worse, but he concedes that may be because producers are reporting instances more.

During the initial breakout, he said, producers were hesitant to report dieback on their property, worrying about devaluation or quarantine.

"There was a fear of talking about it,” Mr Morgan said.

"Now it's at the stage where they are saying, 'This is a problem and we need help here'.”

Part of the issue lies in there being no durable solution to the dieback.

There are no registered pesticides with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

Mr Morgan said the solution probably lies in a combination of breeding genetically resistant grasses and introducing predatory insects, methods endorsed by a Queensland University of Technology research paper titled Mealybugs and pasture dieback.

Both have their problems.

While research is currently under way at Brian Pastures Research Facility near Gayndah into the question of the former, any results will be months or years down the track.

And, as for the latter, introducing predatory insects, Mrs Goody says she has examined the possibility, but was quoted $5000 for a "little 12ha paddock”.

"Then they grow into ladybugs and you're fixing everyone else's problem,” she said.

"You can't keep them in your own paddock.”

She says she also doubts whether the insects could eat the mealy bugs fast enough, such is her infestation.

Mr Morgan says at the moment, there are still more questions than answers.

While he says the Federal Government was aware of the dieback and he believes they are taking it seriously, he says until the mealy bugs are confirmed as the cause, it's hard to take action.

"There's a fair bit of anger out there,” he said.

For Mrs Goody, the anger is more a weary resignation.

The land is currently at about 50 per cent capacity and the family will have to destock further as they plough paddocks to plant legumes, which the mealy bugs don't have a taste for.

"You don't want to have to get rid of your cattle,” she said.

"We've worked pretty hard to get the genetics we want.

"Probably 90 per cent of our herd is really polley (polled).”

Plus, she says, on a "dude ranch” like hers, the cattle become like family.

"It is (tough) but that's life on the land,” she said.

"You have to make the hard decisions to get rid of them if you have to.”


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