Bee­tles bat­ting farm dung ex­cess

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

Sci­ence knows them as On­thoph­a­gus bin­odis but they’re bet­ter known as dung bee­tles. Scat­tered onto a pile of ma­nure, 100 of them soon dig deep into the fragrant soft brown stuff.

In less than a minute the bee­tles dis­ap­pear into the pile shov­elled to­gether by farm own­ers Ian and Heather Atkin­son.

The cou­ple’s or­ganic sheep, beef, deer and crop­ping farm was one of two in South Wairarapa to re­ceive the tun­nelling bee­tles as part of a na­tion­wide re­lease.

Four species of bee­tles will even­tu­ally be in­tro­duced in the Greater Wellington re­gion: the Geotru­pes spiniger which is ac­tive all year round, the On­thoph­a­gus taurus and On­thoph­a­gus bin­odis, both ac­tive and from spring to au­tumn, and

gazella,

ac­tive dur­ing Digi­ton­thoph­a­gus sum­mer.

Land­care Re­search’s Shaun Forgie, who worked with the Dung Bee­tle Re­lease Strat­egy Group, told 30 farm­ers and sup­port­ers of the project ‘‘we are com­plet­ing the miss­ing link.

‘‘ When you bring in live­stock into a county which doesn’t have dung fauna you al­ready have an im­bal­ance in the sys­tem,’’ Forgie said. One of the rea­sons for in­tro­duc­ing the bee­tles to New Zealand farms was to deal with the amount of ma­nure on pad­docks cre­ated by live­stock which con­trib­utes to the per­pet­u­a­tion of par­a­sitic worms.

The bee­tles would help re­duce the worm in­fec­tion of live­stock by killing the eggs and young lar­vae of th­ese worms, he said.

‘‘It is es­ti­mated that cows defe­cate 11 times a day. That’s an aw­ful lot of dung ap­pear­ing on your pad­docks each day,’’ Forgie said. ‘‘If you have a mod­er­ate load­ing of dung bee­tles that’s a lot of tun­nels pro­duced un­der your fresh dung pats.’’

Tun­nelling bee­tles in­creased lev­els of plant nu­tri­ents in the sub­soil, in­creased aer­a­tion, re­duced com­paction and brought sub­soils to the sur­face.

By bury­ing dung, th­ese bee­tles help in­crease the amount of or­ganic mat­ter in soil and stim­u­lated mi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity and nu­tri­ent cy­cling. This ma­te­rial also feeds earth­worms and other soil or­gan­isms.

Their tun­nels im­prove wa­ter in­fil­tra­tion which re­duces sur­face pond­ing and helps fer­tiliser en­ter the soil. This re­duces the amount of con­tam­i­nants en­ter­ing wa­ter­ways.

Dung bee­tles are at­tracted to newly ex­creted dung by the aroma. Be­low the sur­face, their tun­nels house eggs in­side dung ‘‘sausages’’ the bee­tles had con­structed. The sausages are eaten when the lar­vae hatch.

Group mem­ber John Pearce, a South Kaipara farmer, said Forgie in­tro­duced tun­nelling bee­tles to his farm 15 years ago.

‘‘Within two to three days the dung is buried,’’ Pearce said. His com­ple­ment of dung bee­tles has mul­ti­plied so much that they have be­gun to mi­grate to other farms along Shel­ley Beach.

‘‘They have gone about seven kilo­me­tres from where they were re­leased,’’ he said.

An es­ti­mated 800 bee­tles are the first deliberate in­tro­duc­tion of ben­e­fi­cial in­sects on to Mr and Mrs Atkin­son’s farm.

‘‘For me, it’s very con­sis­tent with the way we’ve been try­ing to farm for a num­ber of years. So, it seems like an ob­vi­ous tool to use,’’ Mrs Atkin­son said.

‘‘One of the ways it has in­ter­ested me is that it will im­prove our wa­ter­ways and im­prove fer­til­ity, im­prove pas­ture growth. It will be a win-win for every­body.

‘‘This is only the start – there are 14 types to be re­leased. The idea of or­ganic farms be­ing used at the start is that there are no treat­ments be­ing used, so this gives them the best chance to sur­vive and get es­tab­lished.

‘‘Once they are up and go­ing, then we’d be­come a re­pos­i­tory to sup­ply other farms.’’

For more in­for­ma­tion about dung bee­tles see dung­bee­tle.org.nz and to go on a wait­ing list to re­ceive bee­tles, con­tact Agrilink NZ project man­ager An­drew Bar­ber at an­drew@agrilink.co.nz.

Good bug: Some of the 800 On­thoph­agu bin­odus dung bee­tles that were re­cently re­leased.

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