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: www.biosecurity.govt.nz/files/pests/black-grass/black-grass-pest-plant.pdf

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