Weeding out a problem: Why weeds are bad for us

Wednesday 30th May 2018

Ever picked up a dandelion puffball to gently blow on it, so that the seeds start to float through the air as they take flight? As enjoyable as that may be, you might be contributing to a weed problem that needs to be controlled.

Weeds are everywhere. Just head out to your backyard and you’re likely to spot a couple of them easily – they come in all shapes and sizes, and some have even found their way onto the dinner plate. There are tall and willowy varieties like fennel or ryegrass, while others are can be colourful or prickly like dandelion and blackberry. Whatever form they come in, plants in the wrong place are weeds and they can easily take over a field if left unchecked. If a small backyard garden can be overrun by weeds in a matter of days, imagine the devastation they can inflict over an entire farm.

So why are weeds trouble?

Being highly competitive, weeds spread quickly and can leave no room for other plants to thrive. They tend to vie for resources such as water and nutrients from native species, reduce crop productivity and pose a threat to our natural environment.

Weeds can change the composition of biodiversity and disrupt the balance in ecological communities. This means other plants and animals are threatened, as weeds increasingly claim more space and nutrients from other life forms found in that ecosystem. In Australia, almost all our native vegetation has either been invaded or is at risk of an invasive plant species[1].

Farmers are most likely to feel the impact of a weed problem. In agriculture, weeds can overtake paddocks, resulting in either poor crop yield or inferior crop quality. For instance, grain milled with certain weed types will result in discoloured flour. Prickly weeds can also invade grazing land, which can lead to unusable pastures, or the eventual contamination of milk or meat. Certain weeds may catch on to the hoofs of animals, hurting their feet. Weeds can even affect the operation of farm machinery, further hindering productivity on farms.

While weeds clearly hurt farmers, they can also be a problem for landowners and local councils for because they grow rampantly and cause damage to habitats. Local councils work hard to control roadside weeds as an overgrown weed patch can easily obstruct driver visibility.

Weed’s cost the Australian agricultural community $4 billion every year[2]

No doubt, due to their invasive nature and destructive power, the economic impact of weeds is significant. It is estimated that weeds cost Australian farmers approximately $1.5 billion a year on weed control and management, and a further $2.5 billion loss in agricultural production. Weeds are a serious problem that requires proactive management.

Thankfully, we have many ways to control weeds, and the use of herbicides is one option. Glyphosate is a one of the herbicides commonly used by farmers and is used in tandem with other agricultural practices to control weeds and produce strong, healthy crops.  

Farmers will often use herbicides, such as glyphosate as part of an integrated weed management program. By using several methods of controlling weeds it is less likely that weeds will adapt to the techniques and tools used to control them. Besides herbicides like glyphosate, farmers also control weeds through hand or mechanical weeding and implementing farming practices that stop weeds from growing such as planting crops that are naturally more competitive and rotating crops in paddocks.

When farmers have access to effective ways to control weeds, it means better crops for them and a consistent and reliable food supply for the rest of us. 


[1] Australian Government see: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/weeds/weeds/why/impact.html

[2] Australian Government see: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive/weeds/weeds/why/impact.html



For more information take a look at our infographic.

Australia's Most Wanted Weeds