29 Mar 2016

Leaves, not eggs, in Southland Easter hunt

2:27 pm on 29 March 2016

Teams of biosecurity staff in Southland have been out each day over Easter trying to locate outbreaks of devastating pest plant velvetleaf.

Velvetleaf found in Canterbury

Velvetleaf found in Canterbury Photo: MPI

The aggressive weed has been identified in contaminated fodder beet seed throughout the country, and the search is on to find plants and halt their spread.

Velvetleaf has also been found in Waikato, North Canterbury and Central Otago.

Farmers who planted the specific Kyros and Bangor varieties of imported fodder beet seed are at real risk of the weed growing in their crop.

Southland Regional Council biosecurity manager Richard Bowman said the region had the largest area planted in fodder beet, and so far 112 hectares of about 1200 had been checked.

"Our aim in Southland is to prevent plants from setting seeds so we are finding some of the plants do have immature flowers on them, and it may only be a matter of a few days to a few weeks before they start to set seed.

"So our aim is to prevent, to find plants and destroy them before they are capable of putting seed into the soil."

The work to find the velvetleaf was labour intensive and time-consuming, he said.

"We are trying to get teams of up to about 10 people to effectively traverse an entire paddock in a line, walking across the paddock in a line, every sort of eight to 10 paces apart and searching as they are walking across the paddock for any sign of velvetleaf.

"Normally it grows up to 1-1.5m tall, but the plants we have found in Southland are up to about 70cm so it is actually quite hard to spot them in a crop."

Mr Bowman said the more help they received from farmers, the better.

"If we get a reasonably solid evidence of a positive, then we will send teams straight to those sites to check them straight away, particularly if they are flowering or at the flowering stage."

He said the plants had a characteristic soft leaf with a velvety feel to it, with little yellow flower heads.

Mr Bowman said the more help they could get from farmers the better.