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Community volunteers boost Otago Velvetleaf operation

Media Release - 19 April 2016

Community volunteers are joining Otago Regional Council (ORC) staff and their counterparts from other agencies, to help rid the invasive pest plant velvetleaf from fodder beet crops in the Otago region.

The major biosecurity response, led nationally by the Ministry for Primary Industries, has so far involved up to 20 ORC staff inspecting 1800 hectares of farmland in Otago, confirming the presence of the velvetleaf weed on 38 affected properties throughout the region.

ORC director environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said ORC staff had begun inspecting a further 76 properties covering about 1100ha of fodder beet crops possibly contaminated with velvetleaf.

“It’s a race against time, because farmers want to start using their fodder beet crops for stock feed. However, thanks to the involvement of volunteers, we should have inspected all the remaining properties by the end of this week,” Mr MacLean said.

He said the input from about 40 volunteers this week, including farmers and students from Lincoln University’s Telford campus, would be welcome cavalry for the ORC staff who have been working long hours, in many cases seven days a week.

Mr MacLean said the focus is now on South and North Otago, with most inspections in Central and West Otago having been completed.

He was grateful for the efforts of grain and seed agents from various companies who had voluntarily helped in the West Otago response, and to the wider community for their efforts.

“The velvetleaf seed can remain active in the soil for up to 60 years. Every time it is disturbed, it risks spreading any seed which may have dropped from the plant. This means farmers will need to remain vigilant over the coming years even if the velvetleaf plants have been removed,” Mr MacLean said.

In areas where farmers needed to use fodder beet for stock feed, they were being encouraged to put in breaks to restrict the ability of stock to disperse velvetleaf seed.

Removing velvetleaf was a painstaking task which had to be done by hand, rather than by spraying, because the feed crops would soon be used soon for winter grazing.

“We are continuing to work with MPI, Asure Quality, Environment Canterbury, the farming community and our wider community, to ensure we can eliminate this pest,” Mr MacLean said.

In recent weeks, ORC staff had been supported by staff from the Hawkes Bay Regional Council and a Hawkes Bay environmental consultancy (Habitat Biodiversity and Pest Management Ltd), and botany students from the University of Otago.

MPI has developed a farm management plan to assist landowners with affected paddocks restrict the spread of velvetleaf to other areas of their property.

The plan and other information on combating velvetleaf is available on the MPI website – www.mpi.govt.nz

For more information contact

Scott MacLean
ORC
Director environmental monitoring and operations
027 4119459

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