Using SWOT to beat a major weed

Once you understand a weed or other pest's strengths and how it can get ahead, you can look at where it is weak and where you or nature can threaten its arrival or survival.

This is the story of how one farmer came to understand a pest - the first step.

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The pest is a plant that is native to South America. Since its arrival in Australia, it has become perhaps the worst weed of the high rainfall areas of south-eastern Australia.

Certainly serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) was this particular farmer's worst weed until he did this analysis and then followed up in the field.

Serrated tussock sets up to a billion seeds to the hectare (400 million seeds/acre). Quite a few, to put it mildly. For this reason it is a noxious weed in the area. A noxious weed is a plant that must be controlled or the local weed inspector pays a visit and lets you know the penalties.

And that is exactly what happened. The farmer's family farm was hundreds of kilometres (miles) outside the district and he bought the farm without having spent enough time to get to know the area. So he had no idea what the weed looked like because it was unknown in his area and so he saw very few weeds on the property.

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More on SWOT:
SWOT is Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis. If you have never done a SWOT analysis, it would be worth reading SWOT analysis to boost profit then coming back to look at this example of a SWOT table.
Soon after the property was in this farmer's hands, the inspector paid a "Welcome to the district" call. The welcome included a tour of the weed that was scattered all over the property, instructions in how to control it, a notice about how long the farmer would have to control it before the inspector brought in contractors to treat it (at the farmer's expense) etc.

The farmer was somewhat surprised to find that he had serrated tussock in patches of up to 100 square metres (yards) plus individual plants scattered through pasture, trees and scrub. Many were well hidden in patches of other tussocky plants (mainly useful native poa grasses that were doing well in the drought at the time).

Some were under the spindly eucalypts (gum trees) that covered the higher hills on the property. Some were in the middle of the field and easily visible once the farmer got his eye in.

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SWOT analysis of serrated tussock from the weed's point of view

Note that you would get a different result for a SWOT analysis of serrated tussock if you did the SWOT analysis
Advantages it has
Disadvantages it has
  • Produces masses of seeds
  • Can tolerate drought better than much of the pasture
  • Established on northern neighbor
  • Wind-blown from north on prevailing winds at seeding time
  • Poor seedling establishment/survival
  • "Needs" bare ground
  • Slows down or stops after heavy frost
  • After heavy frost, top is frosted and stands out by being a different color
  • Easily removed with mattock
Situations where it can get ahead
Situations where it can be beaten
  • Extra seeds are usually dormant in the soil near any serrated tussock plant because the seed that grew to become the plant was part of a seedhead that landed there with many seeds on it
  • Weak pasture
  • Bare ground in late spring to autumn
  • Sheep that are set stocked avoid it while they tend to overgraze other parts of the pasture and as a result encourage the weed
  • Strong pasture: Tall pasture, Good competition, 100% ground cover
  • Visible in grazed fields after frost
  • Vigilance followed by unrelenting use of hoe or mattock then scattering seed in the resulting holes
  • Sensitive rotational grazing

And the management that resulted from that included:
Note: The serrated tussock plants removed whole with seedheads and or flowers intact have been piled into areas of the home vegetable garden surrounded by straw bales. These have then been covered with a thick layer of compost ingredients - particularly rich organic matter. For some reason, not one serrated tussock seedling has emerged in all the years this has been done. Presumably
But whatever it is, it means the organic matter tied up in the plants is not wasted. Instead, a problem is turned into a solution to something else - how to feed the farm family.

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When you do a SWOT analysis, you can take the viewpoint or perspective of:
If one these viewpoints does not give you a suitable set of strategies, sometimes it is worth trying another viewpoint.

If you are looking at a printed version of this page and you would like to visit it on the internet and get a stack of other info that may assist you, the full web address is

Related info:

SWOT analysis to boost profit

Learning from pests

Beat pests by using advantage


Do weeds come to heal the soil?

Understanding the causes of weed problems

Weed control without chemicals

Green manures

Ground cover

Selective grazing


Choosing a farming course and teacher

Green manures in orchards and vineyards

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SWOT analysis involves looking at some aspect of your business, farming, life etc using the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats it is facing or may face in future. This allows you to get a grip on how it is affected by its positives and negatives and how it will be affected by its positives and negatives in the future.

In doing a SWOT, some people choose themselves or their farming as the focus. Others choose the problem they are trying to deal with. Only the person doing the analysis can decide which works best for them. However, if you are having major problems with a pest and just can't put your finger on why it does so well, it may make sense to swap roles.

Looking at things from the pest's point of view gives you a whole new picture of how things are set up for it and against you. Just taking the pest's point of view can be enough to tip the scales your way.

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This page was updated on December 27, 2007