16 March 2023, AU: People, vehicles and equipment are known risk pathways that can bring new pests (insects, diseases or weeds) on to your farm, especially if they visit areas close to production paddocks or harvested grain storage areas.
Keeping track of visitor and vehicle on-farm movements is vital to managing biosecurity risks and managing workplace health and safety.
While it may seem a daunting task to keep track of everyone who has been on your farm, a few simple and easy steps to implement biosecurity measures will help safeguard your livelihood.
One such measure is maintaining a visitor register. The visitor information collected and method of collection will vary for each farm, but the key information to be recorded to assist with tracking in the event of a suspected exotic pest detection or pest response is:
- person’s name;
- contact details (phone and email);
- reason for their visit; and
- areas visited on the farm.
Farm visitors can be from a wide range of places and occupations and, therefore, have different levels of risk associated with them. The risk a visitor poses to your property will depend on where they have come from, where they need to go, what biosecurity (farm hygiene) practices they use and what activities they perform on your farm. If a new pest does enter your farm, understanding how and when it might have arrived will be vital to pest control and eradication efforts.
A good place to start is by identifying the types of people who come to your farm. Typical visitors to a farm include:
- contractors undertaking work on your behalf, for example agronomists, veterinarians or contract harvesters;
- merchants or delivery operators supplying fuel, chemicals, seed or fertiliser;
- staff, including seasonal farm workers;
- family and friends;
- utility and service providers (power, gas, phone);
- other regular visitors performing tasks on-farm such as researchers or school bus drivers; and
- irregular or occasional visitors such as hunters, fishers, tourists or uninvited guests.
Once visitors have been identified, it is important to assess the level of biosecurity risk they bring to the farm. For example, if your next-door neighbour visits the house, this is a very low risk. However, anyone who is entering the production areas of the farm poses a higher risk, especially if they drive their vehicle into your paddocks.
Where a visitor has come from is also key to determining the risk they pose for your farm. For example, visitors who have recently travelled overseas or interstate and have been to production areas on farms would be considered a higher risk.
Once the visitor risk level has been determined, you should consider what hygiene requirements you need to implement to reduce the risk of them introducing new pests. This will be determined by the areas of the property they will access and what tasks they are conducting. For instance, if they will not be coming into contact with your cropping area, the risk is reduced.
However, if they are to inspect crops or work in the production zones of the farm, it is crucial to identify the risk of them introducing new pests and to implement measures to minimise or negate identified risks. An excellent tool to assist identifying and assessing the level of risk is a check list or questionnaire.
Keeping track of visitors
Once a process for evaluating visitor risk has been established, determining how to keep track of the visitors is the next step. When establishing your visitor log and risk assessment checklist it is important to remember that this may not be a one-size-fits-all process. For example, visitors such as agronomists or contractors will be classified as higher-risk; however, they might be able to be treated more like employees and asked to adhere to a predetermined set of farm hygiene requirements such as boot washing, and using your farm vehicles and equipment.
Remember, the easier it is to undertake a process or protocol the more likely it will be followed. Therefore, working out the best tools and methods to collect and store the information is critical to ensuring the continued protection of your farm.
Common methods used to collect and store visitor information include:
- requesting people check in at your home or office;
- ringing, texting or emailing before entering the property; or
- leaving a visitor log at the front gate or in the shed.
There is also a wide range of technology such as apps and QR codes that are being developed to assist in recording, tracing and tracking farm visitors. One example is the recently released Farm Check-in app, available on the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) website.
Regardless of what system is implemented, setting visitor biosecurity expectations is key to the success of the system. A biosecurity sign at the front gate with contact details of who to contact before entering the farm plays an important part in raising awareness of your biosecurity measures.
For regular visitors such as agronomists, contractors or researchers, it might be better to set up a separate simple process for them to check in, such a farm biosecurity agreement setting out compliance arrangements.
Finally, having an effective visitor register and risk assessment system can have a twofold benefit for your business. By assessing a visitor’s level of biosecurity risk before they enter your farm, and implementing measures to mitigate that risk, you will reduce the chances of introducing new pests. An accurate and up-to-date visitor traceability system might help to identify potential sources of new pests, increasing opportunities for better control and eradication.
The Grains Farm Biosecurity Program (GFBP) is an initiative to improve the management of, and preparedness for, biosecurity risks in the grains industry at the farm and industry levels.
Launched in 2007, the program is managed by Plant Health Australia and funded by growers through Grain Producers Australia together with the New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian, Victorian and Western Australian governments.
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