Soil management

Learn about your obligations, and how to minimise the risk of spreading fire ants when working with soil.

pile of soil, yellow excavator, park, green grass

Soil originating from within South East Queensland’s fire ant biosecurity zones is considered high risk for spreading of fire ants.

Soil includes fill, clay, scrapings, site waste and any material removed from the ground at a site where earthworks are being carried out.

The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 and the Soil Movement Guidelines developed under the Biosecurity Act 2014 details a series of steps you must follow when working with soil:

Keep a written record of the steps you take to ensure the soil is processed and stored correctly. Include details about chemical treatments and/or disturbance activities. Keep these records for a minimum of 2 years.

You should also check your property monthly for fire ants, paying special attention to organic material storage areas. This can be done in conjunction with existing property maintenance.

For further information, complete our online fire ant training or contact our compliance team on 13 25 23.

Soil Movement Guidelines

These guidelines inform individuals and businesses of measures they can take to minimise the risk of moving live fire ants in soil.

Soil management training video

Processing and treating soil

If you are intending to move soil within or between fire ant biosecurity zones, you must do 1 or more of the following:

  • treat soil before excavation
  • take soil from depth
  • disturb soil during or after excavation.

You also have the option of storing the soil appropriately.

Business operators should hire a licensed pest manager 2 weeks before the anticipated excavation date to:

Residential property occupiers should purchase and use approved fire ant bait from a local or online retailer to treat the area that is to be excavated.

A newly established, or young fire ant colony is often located in the first metre of soil. You can reduce ant activity and the risk of moving the nest to another location by taking the following steps.

  1. Remove the top metre of soil.
  2. Do the necessary excavation.
  3. Replace the original top metre of soil.

It is important not to mix the top metre of soil with the soil being moved from the site. You must keep the top metre on the property or take it to a waste facility within the fire ant biosecurity zones. Restrictions apply, see table below.

This method is not recommended for areas where the soil type is soft, loamy, or sandy, as fire ant nests can extend further than 1 metre below the surface in areas of these soil types.

Soil that is to be removed from the property should be disturbed every 21 days and 24 hours prior to moving the material to another location. Disturbing soil means undertaking 1 or a combination of the following activities:

  • vigorously turning
  • crushing
  • washing
  • screening.

This activity must be undertaken on the entire soil stockpile.

Storing soil

Tractor digging into soil

Storing soil appropriately is a simple measure to further reduce the risk of fire ant infestation.

If soil is to remain on the property for more than 24 hours, you must use the following storage options:

  • off-ground and covered with an effective barrier that prevents alates (flying fire ant queens) from settling in the soil
  • on-ground:
    • covered with an effective barrier that prevents alates from settling in the soil
    • and

    • stored on a fire ant resistant surface surrounded by a 30cm wide perimeter treatment using an approved chemical product.

The role of the perimeter treatment and fire ant resistant surface is to prevent fire ant queens from crawling into the soil.

Storing off-ground

Soil can be stored off-ground on a trailer and either covered with a tarp or placed inside a shed.

Chemical treatment is not required if storing soil off-ground.

Storing materials on pallets is not considered off-ground storage. Material can easily fall through gaps and form a 'bridge', potentially allowing fire ants to infest the soil. If you want to use pallets, you may do so, but you must follow the recommendations for on-ground storage.

Storing on-ground

Soil can be stored on a fire ant resistant surface. Some examples of fire ant resistant surfaces include:

  • concrete or bitumen (with no cracks)
  • a barrier that fire ants cannot penetrate (e.g. 200 micron unperforated continuous plastic sheeting)
  • compacted ground (other than sand) that has been treated with an appropriate chemical product before soil is stored.

You must apply a chemical treatment correctly if using on-ground storage. If the soil will be stored:

  • on a fire ant-resistant surface (as above), apply a 30cm wide perimeter around the storage area
  • on compacted ground, the entire ground surface must be treated.

It is also important to keep the treated area free of material that could form an untreated bridge to the soil.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has approved the use of bifenthrin for the protection of storage areas (PER14317). This permit expires on 29 February 2024.

Insecticides must be used under the conditions of the APVMA permit, the safety data sheet (SDS) and in conjunction with the product's label.

Moving soil

You can move soil within and across the fire ant biosecurity zones if you do one or more of the following:

  • transport material from zone 1 to a waste facility in zone 1 or 2
  • transport material from zone 2 directly to a waste facility in zone 2 only
  • move the material within 24 hours of it arriving at the original place
  • follow the fire ant management steps outlined above.

Planning on moving soil?

Different rules apply depending on what you are moving and where. Before you turn the key, make sure it’s safe to move your load.

You can also use our material movement advice tool to find out what rules apply to you and your situation.

If cannot comply with these conditions or intend to move soil from zone 2 to zone 1 or outside the zones then you must not move the material unless you are granted a biosecurity instrument permit.