Auckland Biosecurity forum a success

Contributed by Jenny Taylor, The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science

The New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science held a successful Biosecurity Forum at the University of Auckland in early July with an attendance of 113 people from a range of organisations. The mix of speakers and different viewpoints on biosecurity that were presented did expand our understanding of this topic. Interesting that we did not disagree on the importance of biosecurity but yet there is still room to sort out how best we approach it. The forum did meet the aim of bringing different groups together and promoting discussion and we received feedback that as an independent organisation, NZIAHS was playing a useful role here. "

NZIAHS represents over 600 members covering all aspects of the primary sector including crown research institutes, universities, primary industry companies involved with the meat, wool, dairy, fertiliser and horticultural sectors.

More detail will be available at the NIAHS website at:


Something fishy about sheep leg

Questions were asked in Parliament in early September about the testing of a possible animal part which arrived in New Zealand with a shipment of palm kernel feed.

The limb was discovered in May on a Bay of Plenty dairy farm. It was originally identified as most likely being that of a small deer or goat species not present in New Zealand.

By June 26, MPI announced, following DNA testing by Landcare Research, it was confident the leg was from a New Zealand sheep despite of one of the four DNA samples indicating it was from a snapper.

Science team leader at Landcare Research, Lynley Hayes said Landcare Research did not extract the DNA but only tested the material that was sent.
"As you can see from the 99 per cent score, we are confident that that was most likely snapper.”

"How that vial came to be, and was sent to us, is something that we don't know - we just tested what we were given," Ms Hayes said.
Labour spokesman for primary industries, biosecurity and food safety Damien O'Connor, believes human error may have been at play prompting him to bring the matter to the attention of Parliament

Adapted from an article published by Fairfax media on September 3, 2013


Pest seeds spilled

More than 2000 seeds of a feared invasive weed have spilt from the back of a truck making the 40-kilometre journey from Ashburton to Methven.

The seeds of black grass, or meadow foxtail, an invader of winter crops in Britain and Europe, were found in a 16.3-tonne consignment of red fescue grass seed imported from Denmark and were being taken to a containment centre.

But according to the Ministry for Primary Industries, the importer did not follow instructions to keep the load safe.

Now Foundation for Arable Research scientists and ministry, Federated Farmers and Environment Canterbury staff are working to identify where the seed may have spilt.

Black grass is resistant to many herbicides and is difficult to control in several crops. It competes for nutrients, light, water and space, out-competing crops and reducing yields.

However, the ministry believes only a few seeds will germinate.

MPI response manager David Yard said the seeds were "fairly immature".

"There might be three or four germinate in the first year and one or two in the second year."

He estimated 28 kilograms of red fescue had spilt during the trip. Included in that would have been about 2100 black grass seeds – enough to fill an eggcup.

He would not name the importer, who was under investigation, and prosecution was a possibility.

MPI would also be taking up the matter of the contaminated cargo with Danish authorities. The red fescue consignment had been rejected and would shortly be shipped back to Denmark.

The spill had occurred in July, a month after the consignment arrived at Lyttelton. MPI was alerting the public now as a possible germination date approached.

FAR chief executive Nick Pyke said that given the potential economic impact of the weed establishing itself, it was vital all reasonable steps were taken to prevent this.

"Early reporting is vital. Farmers can assist by keeping an eye out for any sign of the pest and if found report it immediately," he said.

The likely period to see the black grass would be November to April. The seed heads are usually reddish-purple in colour, giving the appearance from a distance of black grass.

Information on the plant and a photograph is available at:

Adapted from an article in The Press by John Morgan on September 5, 2013.


What to do about Gazanias

By Susanne Govella, Greater Wellington Regional Council

The pest plant biosecurity team in Wellington are quite excited about a control trial of Gazania spp. we will be carrying out on Wellington’s west coast during this coming season.

Gazania linearis and G. rigens are two species of garden plants commonly sold in New Zealand and Australia. The bright colours of their flower heads along with their ability to tolerate dry conditions and poor soils have made them popular among gardeners.

Gazanias are native to South Africa where they can be found from low altitude sandy soils to alpine meadows. Species of Gazania hybridise freely when possible, making identification of any Gazania challenging.

Outside their natural range, Gazanias are known to invade agricultural areas and roadsides and can rapidly out-compete native plants, leading to a decline in biodiversity. Their tolerance of dry conditions and poor soils means that Gazanias pose a significant risk to coastal plant communities in New Zealand. It is for this reason that Gazanias have been classified as a “red alert” species in several coastal management plants both in New Zealand and Australia.

The recommended control option for control of Gazanias has typically involved using the herbicide glyphosate, however the efficiency of this control option has now been questioned following a failed control operation in 2011 on Wellington’s south coast.

GWRC Biosecurity Department has been approached by Wellington City Council and Take Care community groups for advice regarding control of Gazanias in coastal ecosystems, following failed control operations and an increase of Gazania plants found in areas previously occupied by other pest plant species that had been successfully controlled.

Although herbicide trials for control of Gazania are currently being carried out by the Riverland Winegrape Growers Association in Loxton, Australia, the herbicides of choice, Amitrole and Diquat, are not recommended for use in fragile ecosystems such as coastal dunes in New Zealand. Therefore the Biosecurity Department plans to undertake control trials aimed at providing a reliable control method for use in fragile coastal ecosystems in the Wellington region.

The aim of this project is to carry-out a spray trial comparing the performance of four agrichemicals (Glyphosate, Grazon, Tordon XT and Versatill,) as a means of controlling Gazania coastal dune ecosystems. By the end of this trial we hope to be able to recommend either a proven control method for Gazanias in coastal dune ecosystems, or further research into developing reliable control methods for Gazanias.

The trial is an interdepartmental collaboration to assure it meets the scientific standards required by our new work procedures. It has been prepared by Nikki McArthur, Environmental science department, Darryl Kee and Susanne Govella Biosecurity pest plants at Greater Wellington Regional Council.

We are looking forward to report back our results after the completion of the trial in September 2014.





Greg Hoskins Senior Biosecurity Officer Auckland Council

Velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), also known as butter-print, is an invasive species that has been confirmed in the Helensville and Waikato areas.

It is an erect, annual shrub-like herb from the same family as hollyhock, to which it bears some resemblance. The plant can reach a height of 1-3m. The velvety, heart-shaped leaves are alternate, about 3-15 cm long. The seeds are brown/black and hairy, and about 3mm diameter. It has a long taproot.

Velvetleaf originates from China and Tibet, where it was grown as a fibre crop and medicinal plant. Since being introduced as a crop in Europe and North America, velvetleaf has come to be seen as an invasive species. It is one of the most detrimental weeds to corn, causing decreases of up to 34% of crop yield if not controlled.

The first record of velvetleaf in this country was in the late 1940s, when it was imported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for testing as a fibre plant. Its presence was later noted in the 1950s as a contaminant of soya bean seed for trials. These were in Wellington and Lincoln respectively, and were isolated records of the plant.

Velvetleaf was recorded in NZ in 1978 at Ararimu, near Papakura, in pasture and cultivated land. It was believed to have come into the country as a seed contaminant.

Velvetleaf has recently been identified in the Waikato area in maize and in feedout lines from silage, and also on two properties in the Helensville area. The owner of one Helensville property believes the velvetleaf may have come onto this property as a seed contaminant in poultry manure that he spread over his farm.

This plant is one of the worst agricultural weeds in corn, sugar beet and soya bean crops in North America. It competes strongly with those crops for light and water, and releases allelochemicals that reduce the growth and emergence of neighbouring plants. Viability of seed in the soil is for 50-60 years, with 500–10,000 seeds/plant produced. The seed also survives in silage and passing through animals.

The plant blooms in summer (January-February) with flowers approximately 1-2cm wide. The flowers have five petals. The yellow to yellow-orange blooms are quite attractive and are on short flower stalks (pedicels) in the upper portions of the plant, in the axil of the stem and leaf, or where the leaves branch off the stem. The plant has distinctive 2cm-diameter circular seedpods. These have a ring of 'prickles' around the upper edge and have a series of crimps along the sides that resemble those of a piecrust edge. Hence, another common name for this plant is "pie-maker".

Small populations and single plants can be easily pulled or dug up before they go to seed, so early detection and rapid response is a key to controlling the plant. However, because seeds can remain viable in the soil for 50 years or more, velvetleaf can be very difficult to eradicate if infestations are allowed to persist and produce seed. It is important to watch carefully for this plant and remove it as soon as it is found. All plant material should be bagged and disposed of safely, to avoid spreading the seeds.

If any equipment is used where this plant occurs, clean it carefully before working in a new area. Return to the same area each year and look for new plants germinating from the seed bank.

Established populations will take much longer to eradicate because of the long-lived seeds. Plants can be manually dug up or pulled, or they can be mowed close to the ground while the plants are still small. Crop rotation can help prevent favourable growing conditions for velvetleaf.

Chemical controls are generally effective only when velvetleaf is less than 10cm tall. Velvetleaf leaves tend to droop or wilt in the late afternoon, so spraying is more effective in the morning or midday


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