Fungus to tackle pest grass
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).