Alberta specialist reports that weeds are weeds no matter where you go

(EDITOR’S NOTE: It is a long way from Rocky Mountain House Alberta to the State of Victoria in southeast Australia, but here is the first report by Alberta’s Clearwater County ag fieldman Kim Nielsen. Nielsen arrived in Australia in December and will be filing reports during his six month adventure.)

Having just recently arrived in Victoria in the south east corner of Australia I am in the adjustment mode; the language, the plus 30 weather, the landscape and of course the excitement to begin a job in some ways similar and then in other ways extremely different to the one I ordinarily hold at Clearwater County in west central Alberta managing the agricultural services department.

I am much honoured to have been given the opportunity to work for the state of Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries, Farm Services Division, Landscape Protection on Weed and Pests for the next six months really in essence as an agricultural fieldman although for the entire state and not a municipal organization typical of that in Alberta. I would be amiss if I didn’t recognize the support given me from both the Clearwater County Council and the Agricultural Service Board towards this collaborative initiative between Clearwater County and the state of Victoria, without a doubt the highlight of my 25 year career.

I am also fortunate to have some excellent staff at home. Matt Martinson has taken over my position until my return June 1, 2009 and with Anita Nichols-Juricic at the front counter along with Gary Lewis’s and Steve Maki’s experience I know that the ag department will be left in good hands.

One of the programs that impressed me when I toured Victoria back in February ’08 with a handful of Albertans was the landcare movements which evolved from a project in that state to protect a watershed from continuing degradation and eventually complete devastation. The landcare concept is very much what we see reflected in our local west central Alberta watershed stewardship groups such as the Rocky Riparian Group and the Medicine River Watershed Society.

The community engagement from these relatively small groups comprised of community, government and businesses is highly effective and has caused the Australian landscape to rapidly improve from the ecological impact caused back in the settling eras. The aggressive land clearing initiatives and introductions of non-native invasive foreign trees and plant species coupled with the fact that this is a continent undoubtedly impacted by global warming greater than any other place on earth has devastated Australia ecologically in many ways.

Volunteers from all walks of life are forming community landcare groups, now totalling 4,000 across the nation actively pursue repairs to the countryside by planting native trees, grasses and shrubs to prevent soil erosion, soil salinity and enhancing overall biodiversity.

I will be working in other areas within Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries called Farm Services Division, Landscape Protection, Pests Plants and Animal Services dealing specifically with their invasive plants, the role legislation plays, and the categorization of species, risk assessment models and on the grounds projects. This will take me state wide and although Victoria is a relatively small state in Australia it is still about half the size of Alberta with most of it used for agricultural production. Besides the community engagement behind the landcare movement the Victoria Weed Spotter program is also very fascinating and I look forward to seeing how they recruit, train and maintain such an active group of volunteers that keep an eye out for new foreign and invasive plants threatening the Australian landscape.

The trip has a dual purpose as well as there is a very keen interest in our county-based agricultural programs. Most Australian shires are primarily focused on the three Rs— Roads, Rubbish and Rates. The administration of agricultural programs at the shire level is of great interest to the state of Victoria, and the Agricultural Service Board model which has 63 years of experience in Alberta, is a model Victoria would like to hear more about. I have had the pleasure of working in this field for 25 years but also more recently serving as secretary of the provincial Agricultural Service Board Committee as well as first vice president of the Association of Alberta Agricultural Fieldmen for the last two years.

The role agricultural fieldmen play in the local agricultural arena protecting the agricultural resources from impacts of soil degradation, weeds and pests; and the role Agricultural Service Boards play provincially as the local voice of agriculture is unique in an Australian context. Sharing information and exchanging ideas will be a tremendous win/ win opportunity that via a series of articles in Grainews can reach beyond Clearwater County’s boundaries.

Kim Juul Nielsen, Pest Management Officer, Hamilton, Victoria, Australia can be contacted at [email protected] au

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