Noxious weed, wheel cactus, spreads in the millions across northern Victoria | Ralph-Lauren

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Fifteen years ago, this mountain in Wychitella in northern Victoria was just like any other, filled with undulating, native rocky grasslands. 

But it’s now populated, as far as the eye can see, with wild wheel cactus, a noxious weed.

Farmer Mark Hall lives near the base of Mount Buckrabanyule and has spent decades trying to eradicate it.  

“This is a cancer, and it’s a cancer on the landscape,” Mr Hall said.

A man is using a gun with a needle injecting it into a green cactus plant
Mark Hall has spent decades trying to eradicate wheel cactus in Wychitella. (

ABC News: Kyle Harley

)

Wheel cactus – also known as Opuntia robusta – is native to Mexico and is a highly invasive weed that is now classified as a Weed of National Significance.

About 15 years ago, there was hardly a cactus to be seen on Mount Buckrabanyule. But residents and farmers say control measures have slipped on crown, public and private land, and the weed is growing out of control.

Mr Hall continues to eradicate the growing cacti on his property, but it’s no easy feat.

Difficult to eradicate

“It’s a really labour-intensive weed to get rid of, and that’s part of the problem,” he said.

“Each pad needs to be injected individually with glyphosate with a bit long metal rod.”

A man is on a farm leaning on a fence with a hat on
Mr Nesbit says the noxious weed is spreading quickly. (

ABC News: Kyle Harley

)

But despite individual efforts, the weed is spreading quickly.

Graham Nesbit is the Victorian Farmers Federation Wedderburn branch president and lives about 30 kilometres away from Mr Hall.

“Somewhere around five kilometres a year is its spread rate — basically any area where birds will fly daily and spread the seeds.”

In Maldon in Central Victoria, Lee Mead and her team at Tarrangower Cactus Control Group have been tackling the weed for decades, holding field days and visiting farms to clear infestations.

“We have lots of volunteers. We’ve had hundreds of volunteers involved over the years.”

Four people are walking wearing backpacks filled with pesticides.
Tarrangower Cactus Control Group have been tackling the weed for decades in Central Victoria. (

ABC News: Kyle Harley

)

Need more support

But Ms Mead said control measures needed to be ramped up.

Ms Mead said one of the biggest challenges was the increasing number of absentee farmers in the area.

“Increasingly, farming properties are being subdivided into smaller lifestyle properties, and usually the people that buy these properties don’t live there,” she said.

“If you don’t live on the property or don’t try and earn an income from the property, there’s very little incentive to spend money.”

A close up photo of some green cacti
Birds are spreading the cactus seed throughout Victoria. (

ABC News: Kyle Harley

)

In a statement, Victorian Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said managing wheel cactus was tough, but officers were continuing to work with public and private landholders to manage the weed. 

Parks Victoria said it was carrying out control work across the state and had just completed the first year of a three-year control program on Mount Egbert, Mount Korong and Mount Kooyoora in Victoria. 

But residents and farmers say more funding and enforcement measures are needed.

A wide shot of thousands of wheel cactus on a mountain
Residents and farmers say more funding and enforcement measures are needed. (

ABC News: Kyle Harley

)



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