The eye-watering cost of weeds and pests to Australian farmers

Scientists have attempted to evaluate the cost of weeds and pests on agriculture, estimating a combined A$5.3 billion a year in both management and production loss.

Of that, Australian farmers are spending A$3.8 billion a year to control vertebrate pests and weeds, and suffer production losses of A$1.5 billion.

The evaluation comes from The Department of Agriculture research unit, ABARES (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences).

ABARES’ Executive Director, Dr Jared Greenville, said the latest  report, Cost of established pest animals and weeds to Australian agricultural producers, was an “eye-opening reminder” of the immense task of managing pests and weeds.

​“Costs vary across industries and type of pest and weed, with New South Wales accounting for the largest share of estimated costs at 26%, followed by Western Australia at 25%, and Victoria and Queensland at each 17%,” Greenville said.

​“Some farmers are able to manage and reduce damage from pest animals and weeds, but the cost of management is high and outright elimination is much harder.”


The actual costs might be much higher, as ABARES told Cosmos it used an estimates of daily wage rates of A$231.75 and A$173.30 in 2018–19 to calculating the imputed cost of contract and farm labour respectively. That would be the lower end of farm labour costs.

​“Despite their best efforts, agricultural producers still lose an estimated $1.5 billion a year in damage to crops and livestock,” a spokesperson from ABARES told Cosmos

​“The biggest impact was from weeds, which contributed 82% of the cost to farmers.

The eradication effort has been going on for many years, with mixed success and no evidence that costs are falling.

“Vertebrate pests still have a significant impact on farmers. Foxes, rabbits, feral pigs, wild dogs and goats collectively cost landholders $866 million every year,” they added.

​“It also absorbs time and effort – around 72% of the estimated cost is in the working hours devoted to managing pests and weeds.”

Weeds and technology

ABARES says all these pests require ongoing management and cannot be eradicated, except perhaps at local scales – for example the planned eradication of feral pigs from Kangaroo Island.

“Compared with previous studies our results suggest total costs are broadly similar, but that landholders are probably spending more on management and suffering less residual impact.”  

Nor are the estimates complete. Some animals including feral horses and camels, which do substantial damage to the environment, were not included in the estimate.

“It is difficult to estimate impacts for some species, so we focused on a subset of species for residual impacts. A recent report by McLeod focussed on deer, so we didn’t include deer in the estimate of residual impacts,” the Department says.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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