Lar­vae take a bite out of dairy feed

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

An alien in­vader that thrives on hot, dry weather has brought dairy farmer Martin Henton to his knees. South African Black Bee­tle lar­vae are munch­ing their way through the roots of Mr Henton’s Gor­don­ton pad­docks at a rate com­pa­ra­ble to 2010 when black bee­tle pop­u­la­tions reached a record high in the Waikato.

With­out roots the grass can­not grow, the cows can­not be fed and milk can­not be pro­duced.

This sea­son the lar­vae have re­duced milk pro­duc­tion on Mr Henton’s farm by about 20 per cent at a cost of $180,000. A sim­i­lar drop in pro­duc­tion in the 2008 drought cost dairy gi­ant Fon­terra in ex­cess of $700 mil­lion.

Yes­ter­day Mr Henton was crawl­ing through his pad­dock look­ing for the lar­vae and assess­ing the dam­age.

‘‘It’s start­ing to be wor­ry­ing,’’ Mr Henton said of the dry weather and the rise of the black bee­tle.

‘‘It’s in­cred­i­ble how much dam­age some­thing this lit­tle can do.’’

The lar­vae can­not be treated with in­sec­ti­cide be­cause the chem­i­cals would get into graz­ing cows and then milk.

The $180,000 drop in milk pro­duc­tion is bad enough, but Mr Henton will also need to buy sup­ple­men­tary feed, which has this week shot up from $300 per tonne to $350 be­cause of the dry weather, and he will re sow part of the farm at a cost of up to $1000 per hectare.

Mr Henton is not alone. His is one of the Waikato’s worst-af­fected farms, but there are oth­ers, although the ex­act num­ber will not be known un­til AgRe­search pas­ture sci­en­tist War­ren King’s black bee­tle sur­vey is com­plete to­wards the end of the month.

He’s hop­ing that early indi­ca­tions that num­bers are gen­er­ally down across the re­gion, with some pock­ets of in­creases, is right.

‘‘The num­bers can still be quite high, par­tic­u­larly on peat soil.

‘‘It’s a dou­ble whammy, be­cause you have got th­ese lar­vae eat­ing the roots just when the plant needs them to sur­vive the dry con­di­tions,’’ Mr King said.

James Houghton, pres­i­dent of Waikato Fed­er­ated Farm­ers, said the next 10 days would de­ter­mine how des­per­ate farm­ers got about the weather.

‘‘In the next two weeks, if we don’t get rain, re­gional coun­cils may start to shut down some of the water takes.’’

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