by Robyn Bryant, AgForce
Pimelea is a native plant that occurs over one third of Australia's pastoral area across five states causing seasonal cattle deaths, reduced weight gain in surviving cattle and rendering large pasture areas too risky for grazing.
Symptoms of pimelea or St George's disease include swelling of the jaw and brisket, diarrhoea, rapid weight loss, a rough coat, breathing problems and decreased appetite.
Primary producers across inland Australia have lost hundreds of cattle to pimelea poisoning in recent dry years, and the problem is getting worse.
This year could be another difficult year with the dry summer combined with patchy ground cover followed by winter rainfall making ideal conditions for pimelea.
Cattle producers are eager for a solution to be found to this problem as soon as possible.
It was great to see more than 40 Queensland producers pledging cash and in-kind support last year to help leverage a co-contribution from the Meat and Livestock Australia donor company for an initial $150,000 six-month research project.
The momentum from producers, livestock agents, rural newspapers, regional councils, AGL Energy and others has now resulted in MLA committing an additional $1.5million for a three-year, national project on plant toxins.
AgForce, researchers and cattle producers are determined to leave no stone unturned over the next few years in the quest to combat pimelea toxicity.
The first stage of the project has seen microbiology researchers from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries collect more than 100 stomach fluid samples from pimelea-affected cattle, unaffected cattle and other animals grazing on pimelea, such as sheep, goats and kangaroos.
Producers and researchers have also harvested 100 kilograms of pimelea plant material, which has been freeze-dried for use over the life of the three-year project.
Researchers will use the material gathered to trickle feed an artificial rumen to look at ways to break down or block the toxins before it affects the small intestine and is fully absorbed by cattle.
Potential solutions are a probiotic drench and binding compound to combat pimelea.
There is scope to do additional research on how best to manage pimelea in the paddock, and last week AgForce organised a Think Tank in Roma to consider key questions to guide future pasture management and cattle nutrition research.
The project demonstrates how empowered producers can influence research direction and be actively involved in the research and development journey.
AgForce is thankful to all of the various individuals and organisations who have thrown their support behind this research.
Let's hope over the next three years positive solutions are found to tackle a problem that has caused too much heartache and stress for cattle producers and their animals for far too long.
Robyn Bryant is a cattle producer near Mitchell and is the AgForce's southern inland Queensland regional president.