Fun­gus to tackle pest grass

The Hastings Mail - - WHAT’S ON - GER­ARD HUTCHING

As of­fi­cials pre­pare to bat­tle against in­va­sive Chilean nee­dle grass with a rust fun­gus, a Marl­bor­ough farmer says a na­tional ef­fort is needed against the de­struc­tive ex­otic plant.

Marl­bor­ough District Coun­cil has ap­plied to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Author­ity (EPA) to in­tro­duce the rust fun­gus on be­half of a con­sor­tium of re­gional coun­cils and the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC).

Chilean nee­dle grass is found at some 300 sites in New Zealand, cov­er­ing around 4000 hectares, but up to 15 mil­lion ha may be po­ten­tially at risk.

Its sharp seeds can cause blind­ness, deaf­ness and ab­scesses in sheep, and can travel on sheep’s wool, ma­chin­ery and cloth­ing.

Awa­tere sheep and beef farmer War­wick Lis­saman cau­tiously wel­comed the news about the fun­gus ap­pli­ca­tion, but said it would not erad­i­cate the grass.

‘‘I’m in favour of all con­trol meth­ods but erad­i­ca­tion needs to be the end goal, whereas a bio­con­trol agent will just sus­tain it at lower lev­els.’’

He said there needed to be a na­tional strat­egy in the same way as there was with other pests such as kauri dieback, wild­ing pines and My­coplasma bo­vis.

The fun­gus – Uromyces pen­canus – in­fects the leaves of Chilean nee­dle grass and com­petes with them for nu­tri­ents, with de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects.

The EPA said a year-long study in Argentina had found the fun­gus did not spread to plants other than the nee­dle grass.

The EPA would con­sider the risks and ben­e­fits be­fore any de­ci­sion was made to re­lease the rust in New Zealand.

Pub­lic sub­mis­sions on the ap­pli­ca­tion open on Jan­uary 29 and close on March 13.

Chilean nee­dle grass has dis­tinc­tive pur­ple seed heads with long awns (tails).

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