Spe­cial­ist team to target vel­vetleaf

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - GER­ALD PIDDOCK

‘‘Ev­ery­body is hold­ing their breath to see how bad it is.’’

Waikato maize grow­ers will soon know how badly the re­gion is af­fected by vel­vetleaf be­cause the in­va­sive weed is ex­pected to start ap­pear­ing in pad­docks in Oc­to­ber.

Vel­vetleaf has been dis­cov­ered on 29 Waikato farms - pre­dom­i­nantly in the Te Aro­haWai­hou area - since it was found in late April this year.

It is sus­pected to have spread to an­other 70 farms in the re­gion.

These farms would be closely mon­i­tored and a 12-per­son in­dus­try-wide com­mit­tee was be­ing es­tab­lished to help spear­head vel­vetleaf man­age­ment this sum­mer, Waikato Fed­er­ated Farm­ers arable chair­man John Hodge said.

It would be very in­ter­est­ing to see the weed’s ef­fect this spring.

‘‘Ev­ery­body is hold­ing their breath to see how bad it is.’’

Vel­vetleaf’s po­ten­tial im­pact was out­lined at a meet­ing at­tended by about 30 farm­ers at El­stow, near Te Aroha.

Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil pest plants team leader Dar­ion Em­bling said ig­nor­ing the risks could come at a huge cost. In the best-case sce­nario, the re­gion faced a 30 per cent loss of in­come for the arable in­dus­try a decade from now.

’’The arable in­dus­try in New Zealand is worth $1.5 billion so you are look­ing at $500 mil­lion per year this coun­try could lose.’’

Deal­ing with the weed cost the Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil more than $200,000 last year. He said Waikato’s sit­u­a­tion was unique be­cause the weed was found in maize as well as fod­der­beet.

Else­where, vel­vetleaf had been found only in fod­der­beet. Key to con­tain­ing it in sum­mer would be man­age­ment plans spe­cific to the farms where fod­der­beet was found.

Its dis­cov­ery in maize meant it could po­ten­tially be spread to other farms through sales of maize grain and silage for cat­tle, chick­ens, goats and pigs.

Vel­vetleaf seeds could be­come mixed in the feed, eaten and spread onto the farm in dung. A suc­cess­ful re­sponse re­quired a col­lec­tive ef­fort from farm­ers, the wider in­dus­try, and lo­cal and cen­tral govern­ment.

The place to break the cy­cle was at the be­gin­ning on the maize crop, Em­bling said.

That meant ramp­ing up farm biose­cu­rity by reg­u­larly check­ing crops for un­usual weeds and es­tab­lish­ing wash-down sta­tions to clean ma­chin­ery. ‘‘Treat the prop­erty like it’s a bor­der, like it’s an is­land.’’

Vel­vetleaf has been dis­cov­ered on 29 Waikato farms in both maize and fod­der­beet crops since April.

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