ARGT threat prompts hay warning

06 Jan, 2001 03:02 PM
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THE state's worst outbreak of annual ryegrass toxicity (ARGT) in nearly a decade has prompted Agwest to issue a warning on hay quality. The reminder to farmers to buy only quality-tested hay comes in a season where many crops failed and feed shortages are at critically low levels, posing more than just financial woes to farmers. Finding quality feed this year also will be a challenge. The bacteria that causes the devastating ARGT disease in sheep and other livestock, and ravages pastures and hay crops, has not been seen in current concentrations since 1991, according to Agriculture WA principal veterinary toxicologist Jeremy Allen. The extent of the problem was not realised until October and November last year, when high numbers of ARGT-related stock deaths were recorded on farms throughout Wyalkatchem, Dowerin and Wongan Hills. So not only have livestock producers been caught short of feed due to adverse seasonal conditions, significantly increasing prices, the threat of ARGT also has significantly reduced the quality of feed available. Mr Allen has sent out a warning to those buying hay from ARGT-susceptible areas, which include the Wheatbelt and up to Three Springs, to ensure that the hay is tested before it is bought. "We can't over-emphasise the fact that people should get hay tested before buying it," Mr Allen said. "It is amazing how many people don't know about getting their hay tested." The high number of field cases of ARGT in sheep this year, which has been blamed on the very short growing season in 2000, has coincided with record levels of bacterial contamination in export hay." He said although many bales of export hay tested had proven safe, a very high proportion tested "positive" and "weak positive" compared with last season. Only one gall per kilogram is allowed in export grade hay. Although weak positive is unacceptable for export ‹ because it contains between one and 10 bacterial galls per kilogram ‹ Mr Allen said it was still safe for animal consumption. He said a 60kg sheep would need to eat 2.6 tonnes of that hay to develop ARGT, or for the smaller proportion of animals that are extremely susceptible, 860kg, which would take almost 2.5 years to consume. Bales that test positive (over 10 galls per kilogram) may be reasonably safe for stock if they contain less than 100 galls/kg, which can only be assessed through an Agwest quantitative test. However, Mr Allen said Agwest would prefer people to destroy these nales. That is exactly what export hay producer Troy McDonald, New Norcia, is doing with the bales that tested positive on his farm this year. Mr McDonald, who grows between 10,000 and 14,000 tonnes of export quality hay annually, said this year was the worst year for ARGT bacterial gall New Norcia had ever experienced. He said the number of bales that tested weak positive on his farm increased greatly this year compared with 1999-2000. As both a farmer and an export hay grower, Mr McDonald has endorsed everything Mr Allen has said. While there is confusion about what level of ARGT bacterial galls in hay pose a risk to livestock, Mr McDonald said those needing to buy hay were better off buying hay that tested "weak positive" rather than untested hay. "When buying hay, farmers need to ensure the ARGT bacteria test has been endorsed or carried out by Agwest to verify the bacterial gall content per kilogram," Mr McDonald said. More cases of ARGT in sheep are expected in February, when stock is being hand fed. ÿ

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