A&F Bulletin - Keep a look out for Chilean Needlegrass

Columns
Friday, November 20, 2015

The threat which Chilean Needlegrass poses to Marlborough’s pastoral farming industry cannot be overstated.

This is an invasive weed that we have to be very careful to control and it is absolutely essential that we keep on top of it.

I have no doubt that every farmer is aware of this pest, which attaches easily to stock, particularly sheep wool, and is able to penetrate animals’ skin and eyes and damages carcasses.

But it is our vineyards where the grass can easily grow unchecked, and from there be spread to neighbouring properties, or even further afield by animals which graze between the rows before being transferred back to the paddock.

Chilean Needlegrass does not affect the economic viability of a vineyard, so the potential for it to spread unnoticed is huge.

A lot of the land that is under threat by Chilean Needlegrass infestation is under vineyards: It is currently found on more than 150 Marlborough properties, with the main concentration in the Blind River/Grassmere area, but there are patches throughout the region.

An added complication is that Taskforce herbicide, which was registered in New Zealand in 2011 for the control of needlegrass, cannot be used close to vines.

I implore all vineyard owners and managers to be vigilant of Chilean Needlegrass on their properties and report it to, and seek advice from, Marlborough District Council biosecurity officers if they suspect its presence.

As we have already learned, this pest is a hardy and persistent one and was able to spread unhindered for many years after arriving here in the 1970s.

Besides attaching to stock, it is also spread by people, vehicles and machinery, with the seed remaining viable in the soil for more than 12 years.

Its potentially disastrous impact on animal welfare flows through to livestock trading and farm viability, putting Marlborough’s - and in fact New Zealand’s - livestock and arable and seed industries in peril. For a nation dependent on export, the ramifications are huge.

If the infested area is not shrunk now, a great concern is that it will spread to the high country: Once there, it will be almost impossible to control.

It therefore is heartening to see the strong partnership that already exists between council and landowners with regards to this important issue.

The Chilean Needlegrass Action Group (CNAG) has developed a 15-year Strategic Framework that aims to further this partnership and educate landowners on the importance of controlling needlegrass, as well as work on the development of refined pest management.

Forward-thinking action groups like the CNAG are a great, and necessary, opportunity for a community to get ahead and to help itself.

This issue requires full, long-term commitment from landowners, if there is any hope of reaching the aim of total eradication.

Agriculture forms a huge part of the backbone of our economy and we cannot afford to jeopardise this.

With the recent warm weather, Chilean Needlegrass has been able to get an early start to its main growing season, so now is the time to be vigilant.

I encourage any landowner who suspects they might have needlegrass on their property to act now, before it is too late.