Opposition calls for greater lice control

31 Oct, 2011 02:00 AM
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THE debate on the issue of lice control is in the spotlight again with Shadow Agriculture Minister Mick Murray saying the State Government has ignored the plight of WA sheep farmers seeking to apply regulations to control lice on sheep.

"The problem of sheep lice is a big financial burden on the industry, yet the Barnett Government is failing to offer any real support to farmers," Mr Murray said.

"It's costing the Australian farming industry somewhere around $120 million a year which is a considerable amount.

"After questioning in Parliament, it's clear the Barnett Government has no plans to introduce regulations to help control lice infections in sheep flocks.

"This government has put everything back on the producer, the cost of addressing the problem has risen and the government isn't providing any assistance.

"Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman is refusing to meet with grassroots farmers to develop legislation in this area."

The Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) admits there is a high number of sheep flocks infested with lice in Australia and that number is increasing at a significant cost to the industry.

In response to Mr Murray's comments, Mr Redman said he had been contacted by farmers wanting the State Government to intervene, but he was reluctant to do so.

"Right now we play an advisory role to farmers on what they can do," he said.

"Some farmers are calling for us to strengthen the rules and play a strong regulatory role but I think industry needs to take control of this.

"We have got mechanisms in place now for industry to do exactly that.

"We've got industry funding scheme mechanisms, but industry hasn't come to me and said 'we want to use these mechanisms' to be able to get control of what people see as a challenge."

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) Livestock Committee chairman Digby Stretch said the PGA's view was even though there was a lot of lice in WA, the actual effect of it when you talked to wool brokers, was that very few people had let lice become an economic problem because they managed it.

"While that comes at a cost the ball is in the farmers' court," Mr Stretch said.

"There are adequate chemicals out there and while they're not cheap and not pleasant they are there.

"It comes down to a better on-farm management approach and people will take various approaches to how they manage it, whether it be a farm with big fortress fences where nothing ever comes in or out, or other people that are trading sheep and know they will be regularly exposed to lice and so handle things accordingly.

"There are enough tools out there and we do encourage a constant focus on research and development and chemical companies to work on ways to handle it but we don't need government intervention."

While some farmers have the view that there was no point forking out money to control a small lice problem when the next door neighbour has a large problem and wasn't doing anything about it, Mr Stretch said reality would tell you that the neighbour would be doing something about it.

"If you take a 30pc hit on your wool income because you did nothing and your shearers don't want to come back again you will find what they say and what they do are two different things," he said.

"While people say why should I do something, the reality is they have done something or at least have it under control even if they can't eradicate it.

"On my place I would have to say we run a control program - I would love to eradicate it but realistically it's a control program.

"For most farmers control is what's going on and eradication is the aim."

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