Ag Dept PD 3

The Department of Agriculture and Food hosted yet another FOTE Professional Development event on June 30 2008.

There was a wide range of talks on a variety of topics.

At the end of the event, Head of Science for Willetton Senior High School thanked the contributors and said "these quiet achievers need to be more appreciated and recognized for the invaluable work they do for Australia."

Thanks to Lance for providing the following summary of the days topics.


Sandy Lloyd described the myriad of weeds which have colonized Australia.  Many plants which appear to be native, and may be quite “attractive” are in fact introduced and compete with indigenous flora.  We were introduced to the book “Western Weeds”.  The Arum Lily is a good specimen to show the flow of inks, like in the old celery stick experiment. 

Many introduced species are “sleeper” weeds, ready to take over when the conditions are right!

If you are interested in knowing more about weeds and what to do about them, the CRC for Weed Management has a FABULOUS website with resources including lesson plans for teachers, games for kids, advice on bushland friendly gardens and MUCH more. The website is at 

Weeds CRC website


Rose Fogliani took us on a fascinating tour of the Fruit Fly breeding facility.  What a job! These guys need medals!  I never saw so many flies, eggs and maggots in my life!  Eventually we got used to the smell.  The mission is to send millions of sterile and very attractive male flies to keep the females busy and unfertilized: a brilliant method of biological control.  Flies are sent interstate to control outbreaks. 

Check out the Department of Agriculture and Food website for more information

Fruit fly


Bob Nulsen described the complex problem of soil degradation, in particular salinity and the ways this is being tackled.  Ground water can be saltier than sea water.  20 to 30 kg of salt per hectare is deposited as far as Northam every year!  Salt tolerant plants planted in fresh water catching furrows work much better than expensive deep drains.  Salt is only part of the problem: acidification, compaction, water logging and wind and water erosion are sometimes less dramatically obvious than salinity.


Vern Ferdinands explained the complex process of determining “exceptional circumstances” and providing relief to farmers.  It seems the exceptional circumstances may become the norm.  Should the tax payer be subsidizing now non-viable farms?  Counselling is an important part of relief.  The problem is lonely and depressing. More information can be found at


Darryl Hardie described the “Secret Service” of insect control.  Early detection is the key to control, maintaining surveillance, and using “smart traps” with hi-tech shape recognition software and GPS enabled PDA’s.  Look out 007!

For more information on entomology and insect pests of Western Australia, check out the Department of Agriculture and Food's website at


John Bonnardeaux  compared ethanol and biodiesel.  Ethanol is based on fermentation of starch/sugar, is not dependant on feedstock quality and produces distillers’ grain as a useful stock feed byproduct.  Biodiesel production involves base catalised transesterification of fats and oils.  The feedstock quality determines the quality and value of the product.  Glycerine is the byproduct:  useful and biodegradable but not so much in demand.  It may be viable for farming communities to work together to produce and share biodiesel, but quality control is an issue for higher performance vehicles. 

More information is availale from the Department of Agriculture and Food Website

Canola Stirlings

European House Borer (EHB)

Danica Collins introduced us to the world of the European House Beetle.  This lives as a larvea for between 2-8 years, munching on pine until it is all but gone!  Fortunately, hard woods are safe, but furniture and pine construction are vulnerable.  Listening to a native (harmless) borer inside a sample of cane illustrated the usefulness of acoustic detection techniques.  Otherwise look for exit holes or use trained dogs to sniff them out.

Check out the Department of Agriculture and Food's EHB website for much more information

European House Borer


Mark Chmielewski described the tremendous work being done to help aboriginal communities develop sustainable, well managed and profitable agricultural businesses.  Young people are being employed and trained.  Huge benefits are flowing into communities and a great sense of pride is developed.  This is an unsung project which is making a great difference to people’s lives and deserves acclaim nation wide.


Ian Foster talked us through the “inconvenient truth” of climate change.    Since 1950, the sea is 70mm higher, the temperature is 0.9 degrees warmer and the north of Australia is wetter and south dryer.  By 2070, we could be 5 degrees warmer if we do nothing.

The Department of Agriculture and Foods "Climate Risks and Opportunities Project" (CROP) website contains much more information

“Thanks for a very interesting and informative day.  These “quiet achievers” need to be more appreciated and recognized for the invaluable work they do for Australia.”


Lance Taylor

Head of Learning Area (Science)

Willetton Senior High School