Production

Why a national feral pig action plan is long overdue

James Nason, September 2, 2020

At any given time, more than 1000 individual feral pig control programs can be underway across Australia.

Most are focused at a local level and few operate in a coordinated, strategic way.

With African swine fever (ASF) now knocking on Australia’s door after reaching East Timor and Papua New Guinea, long called-for efforts to develop a national strategic plan for controlling feral pigs are finally gaining serious momentum.

For the past two months leading agribusiness identity John Maher has been heading a high-level steering group comprising representatives from peak industry councils, local Governments, State and Federal Departments and the research sector to develop Australia’s first National Feral Pig Action Plan.

The steering group has met twice already and today is holding a detailed information session via Zoom for 64 stakeholders around the country.

Recently completed research has underlined the depth of the problem feral pigs pose to agriculture, the environment, indigenous communities and livestock and human health nationally.

Economically the direct cost of damage caused by feral pigs each year is estimated at $106.5 million annually, likely to be a conservative figure, including predation on livestock, reductions in crop yields and physical damage to infrastructure such as fences and water troughs.

As this economic cost estimate is derived from studies conducted over 20 years ago, work is underway to better understand the economic impact of feral pigs and assess their non-market environmental and social impacts.

That estimate does not factor the damages caused by feral pig populations as carriers and amplifiers of many endemic and exotic diseases, including Q fever, leptospirosis, brucellosis, tuberculosis and porcine parvovirus.

The potential for feral pigs to harbour foot-and-mouth disease or African swine fever has also been long-identified as a major risk factor for industry that could result in devastating losses to the Australian livestock sector.

The National Feral Pig Action Plan is backed by a $1.4 million Federal Government initiative, but longer term, sustainable sources of funding will be required to underpin a successful national control strategy.

Initial funding could provide a short term “sugar hit” through a major cull but without sustainable funding and a strategic approach pig populations would quickly recover, Mr Maher said.

Australian Pork Limited has been heavily involved in driving the program forward, with its former research and innovation general manager Dr Heather Channon appointed as National Feral Pig Management Coordinator in February, but support from other agricultural sectors will also be needed to ensure the program’s long-term effectiveness.

Mr Maher said that since taking on the role of Chair of the Steering Group leading the development of the National Feral Pig Action Plan a few months ago, it has become clear how fragmented and disjointed existing feral pig control approaches are across the country.

“What we’re going to try to do is put together a plan that applies a more strategic national approach so we get better bang for our money, with respect to the dollars that are being spent,” he said.

“At the moment there are many community programs being run, but there is a lack of knowledge sharing of effectiveness of feral pig management.

“The whole idea is to get far better coordination and consistency of initiatives nationally, and to guide the use of scalable best practice methods for feral pig control.

“Let’s be frank, choice of methods and their success will differ by region, and one thing we are learning is a regional approach is best rather than a property by property approach. Feral pigs don’t recognise fences or land boundaries.”

Reviving commercial harvesting to be explored

In years gone by the commercial harvesting and processing of Australian feral pigs for overseas markets has generated economic activity for rural communities, peaking at $50 million in the mid 1980s and helping to control feral pig numbers.

Factors including increased competition in overseas markets, the logistical challenges and cost of harvesting pigs over large areas and the sporadic supply of carcases suitable for processing led to the trade’s deterioration from 2010.

However Mr Maher said the business case for reviving a feral pig harvesting industry will also be looked at as part of the nationally coordinated feral pig management plan.

Mr Maher said the steering group is aiming to develop a draft national plan to give to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on January 15.

* Industry stakeholders wishing to participate in the National Feral Pig Action Plan Stakeholder Survey, which will contribute to the development of the National Feral Pig Action Plan, have two days left to do so – the survey will close at 11:59pm this Friday, September 4. For full details or to participate, go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6M9XT8M

 

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Comments

  1. Gary Richards, September 3, 2020

    I am a butcher in Hervey Bay, when pigs where worth approx $1.30 a kg, this was worth hunters going out and keeping the pig population down, since this has stopped, the pigs have bred up. Instead of the government pouring lots of money towards this, put a bounty on pigs, the hunters have to bring in the ears to councils and recieve ex amount, this will entice many people to go out and this will bring the pig population under control, look what this has done for bottles and cans, people are now walking the roads to pick up bottles and cans, this was done in the 60,s when I was a kid, I made a small fortune out of collecting bottles, this will work 100%. Please contact me if needed 0416025694.

  2. Peter Dunn, September 2, 2020

    It is astounding that there needed to be “recently completed research to underline the depth of the problem feral pigs pose to agriculture etc……..”. Feral pigs were getting out of hand in the 1960’s, and sixty years later we now have them in what some people describe as ‘plague proportions’, to spread ASF. Heaven help the pork industry in Australia.
    Three things are obvious. Firstly, far too much research funding is put towards low value research, and investigating the depth of the already well known feral pig problem is a typical example. Secondly, the calling for an investigation into the location of ground zero of ASF is appropriate, but sadly (as with the Covid 19 investigation) it will probably not produce any useful outcome. Thirdly, getting a draft national plan to the Ag. Minister (who despite his exceptional ability does not have a magic wand) by January reminds me of Sir Humphrey Appelby’s favourite timeline “in the fullness of time”. Clearly, with ASF on our doorstep a more urgent and targeted approach. focussed on likely entry points (discretely the Torres Strait and importers of genetic material come to mind) is essential in the short term.

  3. Brendon Cant, September 2, 2020

    Interesting yarn. While it’s clear that the feral pig problem impacts a range of landholders, communities and livestock farmers, it’s not been clear (to me at least) why Australian Pork Limited was the body annointed and funded by the Federal Government to resolve the issue, or at least have a $1.4 million crack at it. APL is really all about pigs and pork and keeping pigs alive long enough for pork to reach a market. Sure, APL has a vested interest in limiting the chances of feral pigs spreading ASF and FMD if we had either here. The cattle industry and others also have such an interest (well for FMD at least). Also, I’m bemused that a food scientist and former research and innovation general manager at APL, Heather Channon, is leading the charge against the feral pigs in her role as National Feral Pig Management Coordinator. Let us hope that she can lure enough stakeholders into the pen to fight the ferals on the many fronts needed to get the job done. Best, BC.

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