The Noxious Weeds Act was signed into law on 8 August 1936. It replaced The Weeds and Agricultural Seeds (Ireland) Act of 1909.
It was initiated on 7 July and passed by Dáil Éireann on 28 July 1936. The act came into effect on 1 January 1937. It was a rapid implementation.
The Noxious Weeds Act was passed before the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland was published. A signal of its importance at the time and indeed the importance of agriculture and food production.
The Minister for Agriculture was Dr James Ryan and it was declared: “An act to make better provision for preventing the growth and spreading of noxious weeds, to amend the law relating to noxious weeds, and to make provision for other matters connected therewith.”
In the year it came into being, the weeds declared as noxious were ragwort, thistles and docks. Common barbery and the male wild hop plant were added in 1958 and 1965 and, in 1973, Minister for Agriculture Mark Clinton added wild oats to the list. No weeds have been added since.
Weeds declared noxious by ministers for agriculture:
How can a noxious weed be declared?
The act allows the minister at any given time to declare a weed as noxious.
The act clearly states: “Whenever the minister is satisfied that plants of any particular species or variety growing, or in the opinion of the minister likely to become established, in any area are in that area noxious weeds, the minister may make an order declaring such plants to be noxious weeds in that area as specified in such order.”
The minister can revoke or amend the order. If an order is made by the minister it must be put before Dáil Éireann as soon as possible. The order will remain in place unless a resolution annulling the order is passed within the next subsequent 21 days.
What does the act say about what should happen if someone has a noxious weed on their land?
A bit of conversion is needed on the fines and other details since the act was brought in, but it is clear from looking around the countryside that this act is not always enforced at present, with ragwort taking over land that is owned by local authorities and even the State in some areas.
However, the act is there and can be enforced to make people take action on weeds.
The act states:
Who is responsible for the weeds on the land?
The act states that people responsible for the land include: the landowner, the occupier of the land, the person who for the time being is entitled to the use of this land or a steward responsible for land management.
What happens today?
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has told the Irish Farmers Journal that the Department now enforces the act “by issuing notices to destroy in all instances where it becomes aware of the presence of noxious weeds”.
These notices are issued following inspections by the Department’s field officers and from receipt of reports from the public.
Follow-up action is undertaken to ensure the notifications are acted upon. The Department also stated that it continues to work with local authorities and the National Roads Authority to ensure a consistent programme of treatments and disposal of such weeds on an ongoing basis. “Farmers are obliged to keep their lands free from noxious weeds under the cross-compliance measures set down for farming practices. Failure to do so can result in the application of a reduction of their payment entitlement,” according to the Department.
Why isn’t blackgrass a noxious weed?
Tillage farming in Ireland is facing many challenges, from dramatic CAP payment cuts to nitrates regulations, but one that is already here is invasive grass weeds that are resistant to herbicides. Blackgrass in particular is an issue.
Most farmers are trying to control this weed. They know that if it is left uncontrolled their land may become unsuitable for tillage production, as blackgrass will take over in their crops.
Some farmers genuinely don’t know they have a weed problem and haven’t identified these problem weeds.
Some farmers will not say they have blackgrass and may not be receiving the advice they need to get the problem under control. However, this issue is probably lessening because blackgrass has now become so common.
And then there are the farmers who know they have blackgrass and are not doing anything about it. These are the real threat to their fellow tillage farmers and neighbours as the weed continues to multiply each year with up to 6,000 seeds on each plant.
At present, nothing can be done about these fields containing blackgrass. No one can enter the field to assess the problem and no one can offer advice unless the landowner or farmer asks for that advice.
Seeds spread in the wind, through wildlife on tyres driving down the road and into the local grain merchant or co-op and through machinery – balers, combines, you name it, those tiny seeds will stick and move on to the next field.
Going back to a Dáil debate from 15 July 1936 before the introduction of the act, Minister Ryan described how this act was being brought in to ensure all counties enforced it and so neighbours trying to control these weeds were not affected by those not controlling them.
“There are eight counties in the Saorstát that have not adopted the act and these eight counties are: Wicklow, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Clare, Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan.”
He continued: “In the case of a county that has decided to enforce the legislation and that is bordering on a county not enforcing it, it is unfair to the farmers who are trying to eliminate noxious weeds and we desire to rectify that position.”
Blackgrass should be declared a noxious weed by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConologue. The time has passed for considering action – it needs be taken immediately.
I am not proposing that the minister gets his staff to travel the country fining people, but I am suggesting that inspectors (which the Department says are actively issuing notices on noxious weeds at present), possibly along with Teagasc advisers or members of the Irish Tillage Consultants Association, be allowed enter these fields, offer advice to the farmer and ensure that the weeds are destroyed and that a plan is put in place to reduce the weed incidence each year.
At present, travelling the country, I hear people say there is blackgrass in that field and there is nothing being done about it. I then hear the advisers say they can’t do anything about it. They are trespassing if they try to give advice.
Declaring blackgrass as a noxious weed immediately and ensuring that there are a number of staff put in place to inspect and explain that these weeds need to be destroyed could prevent a further multiplication of the number of infestations next season.
There is no time to waste on this.
Why should this work?
I know it is hard to understand how adding a weed to an act which isn’t really enforced would do any good.
After all, while farmers are some of the offenders when it comes to noxious weeds, often they aren’t the worst.
Ragwort, docks and thistles are sometimes worse on land owned by the State and local authorities and that could be an issue in the enforcement of this act.
Thistles are a plant species which is now being encouraged by those trying to improve biodiversity. Times have changed since this act was put in place; herbicides are now widely available for many of those plants.
However, we still see the fields of wild oats dotted around the country and yellow plains of ragwort – often located beside a town where building was to take place.
But blackgrass and other grassweeds in tillage crops, like brome, while not new themselves, are a new type of weed threat. They are highly invasive and often resistant to modern sophisticated chemistry.
Some wild oats are now showing resistance to available herbicides. These grass weeds can render farms unviable for cropping and putting structures in place to allow inspectors enter land and order that an effort be made to get the weed problem under control can only help in preventing the spread of these weeds.
Keep up the good work
There are farmers out there constantly struggling with some of these weeds on their farm and they are making huge efforts to keep them under control and reduce their incidence. This is not unnoticed and the challenge is very much recognised. It is not the intention of this article to send inspectors out to fine a farmer who is genuinely trying to bring these weeds under control.