Chilean needle grass campaign increases awareness

The public should be on high alert for Chilean needle grass this growing season following an extensive winter campaign to educate rural New Zealand.
Nearly 400 farm biosecurity signs have been distributed in the past six months to farms across New Zealand in tandem with a Facebook project (www.facebook.com/chileanneedlegrass) highlighting what Chilean needle grass looks like.
The Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme, which is behind the campaign, will now release an updated seed identification card and range of brochures recommending safe biosecurity practices to prevent this exotic pest spreading further.
Chilean needle grass has been found on approximately 3700 hectares in Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Canterbury. It could infest an estimated 15 million hectares nationwide if measures to contain it are not carried out by landowners and visitors to rural properties. This invasive pest poses a significant threat to arable and pastoral farming in New Zealand.
With Chilean needle grass being most recognisable in late spring and early summer during flowering (due to its distinctive reddish purple seed heads with long tails up to 7cm in length), Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme Coordinator Jenna Taylor said landowners, rural contractors and visitors to farms should keep a close eye out from this month for the unusual-looking grass.
“We’re hoping rural communities will be better placed to identify Chilean needle grass in coming months following the social media, signage and brochure campaign,” she said.
In Hawke’s Bay, Chilean needle grass has been found on 24 new properties in the past two years, with most notifications coming from the landowner themselves or a neighbouring property owner.
There are now 127 properties in the region with Chilean needle grass infestations, said Darin Underhill, Biosecurity Team Leader – Plant Pest at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
“The bulk of these are lifestyle blocks, predominately sheep and beef, but the pest has also been found on a dairy farm, two vineyards, a golf course and an apple orchard, so diverse land uses are at risk,” said Mr Underhill.
While most affected properties are located within five main areas, close to one badly-infested property, Chilean needle grass has been found on other isolated properties within the region demonstrating how easily the pest can spread.
“We’re managing each property individually and working with new landowners on a one-by-one basis to educate them about Chilean needle grass risk and how it can be prevented,” he said.
In Marlborough, extensive infestations have been found on 26 properties with a further 48 and 68 properties with substantial and small infestations respectively, said Jono Underwood, Biosecurity Co-ordinator at Marlborough District Council.
“There has been a real push from Council staff and the community to see improvements in the way Chilean needle grass is managed in Marlborough. The Council is endeavouring to undertake a greater level of compliance, surveillance and education work to ensure the level of control work and awareness is lifted across the board,” he said.
At the same time, Marlborough District Council has also supported the formation of a community-led action group to build on the Council programme and get more buy-in within the rural community. Action group chairman Warwick Lissaman said the group has a long-term strategy about involving the whole community to stop it spreading. “Part of that policy is the recognition by landowners who don’t have it, that they could easily get it.”
Integral to the group’s efforts is a voluntary landowners’ farm hygiene plan which asks landowners to assess the risk of Chilean needle grass on their properties and to follow protocols to manage the risk of outward spread and/or the potential for the pest to spread to their property. “Our long-term plan will work if the community is united and responsible,” he said.
The Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme will launch a newly sign-written promotional vehicle and trailer this month to draw attention to the campaign and biosecurity vehicles in Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay, and Marlborough will carry the Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme logo over the spring and summer months to remind landowners in these regions that Chilean needle grass remains a risk for them.
Farm biosecurity signs are still available for interested farmers and can be accessed free of charge from Environment Canterbury, Marlborough District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
Environment Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Marlborough District Council, and the Ministry for Primary Industries are working collaboratively on the Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme campaign with support from the Sustainable Farming Fund.
For more information on farm biosecurity, copies of the updated Chilean needle grass brochures and seed identification card, or to request a farm biosecurity signs for your property, please contact Chilean Needle Grass Awareness Programme Co-ordinator Jenna Taylor on 03 314 9586 or 027 839 3878, or jenna.taylor@ecan.govt.nz