Larvae take a bite out of dairy feed
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.’’