Young Farmer Proactive in Combating Pest Plant

A local North Canterbury farmer has had to make changes to his farming practices to manage an invasion of the pest plant Chilean Needle Grass.

Carl Forrester has been farming since he was 16 years old and has spent the past three years running 500 hectares of leased land on Leader Road East. The 24-year-old sheep and beef farmer contacted Environment Canterbury Biosecurity after finding a grass he suspected was Chilean Needle Grass on his property.

“I noticed a patch of grass I hadn’t seen before. I grabbed a handful of it and noticed that the seeds looked similar to ones I had seen in a pamphlet about pest plants.  I immediately contacted Environment Canterbury, who came out and confirmed it was Chilean Needle Grass,” said Mr Forrester.

Environment Canterbury Principal Biosecurity Advisor Laurence Smith found that Chilean Needle Grass was reasonably well established over around one third of the property. After recent summer growth it was easily visible.

“The extent of the infestation is such that it must have been growing on the property for some time,” he said.

On the advice of Environment Canterbury, Mr Forrester immediately de-stocked all areas where Chilean Needle Grass was found. Large patches of Chilean Needle Grass on the de-stocked land have also been sprayed with glyphosate to prepare for burning.

Burning of the grass will take place soon, so the seed (which will not have been killed by spraying) will be destroyed. A resource consent to burn vegetation on hill and high country is currently being obtained from Environment Canterbury, and liaison with the Rural Fire Authority is being undertaken to ensure that the burn is safe and controlled.

There is also an intention to spray the entire affected area with the herbicide Taskforce, once approval for aerial spraying is obtained. Marlborough District Council, with support from Environment Canterbury has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency for aerial registration of Taskforce.

Mr Forrester encourages other farmers to be similarly proactive if they find potentially invasive plants on their property.

“My advice to farmers is to get along to a field day, have a look at what the grass looks like, and keep an eye out on your own property.

“The sooner you get onto it the better. The support offered by local farmers and landowners has been great and the help and advice from Environment Canterbury’s Biosecurity team has been awesome,” he said.

Laurence Smith encourages people to give Environment Canterbury’s Biosecurity Team a call if they suspect Chilean Needle Grass is on their property.

“It is important to contact Environment Canterbury immediately if you think there is a problem. It is vital you do not move stock or machinery that could be affected as this can easily spread the seeds to other parts of the farm.

“The best thing is to get onto it quickly and use the resources available. We are here to help and provide support to ensure the plant pest can be effectively managed and contained,” he said.

Chilean Needle Grass is a tufted perennial plan which grows to one metre tall in the absence of grazing. Its leaves are bright green and harsh to touch, and it is unpalatable to stock. The flowers have a purple tinge and ripen into hard, sharp seeds with twisting tails. The seed tails can penetrate farm animals’ skin, which is damaging to their hide. This also helps the grass to disperse itself and reseed into the soil.

Chilean Needle Grass is a major problem for dry hill country farmers in Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay. It was first found in Canterbury at Spotswood, a North Canterbury property, in 2008.

Two more sites in Omihi and Lemington Valley in the Hurunui District have been identified in the past week and the extent of the incursion in these properties is still being determined by Environment Canterbury Biosecurity.

If you suspect Chilean Needle Grass is on your property please contact Environment Canterbury on 03 314 8014.

For more information: Laurence Smith, Environment Canterbury, Principal Biosecurity Advisor, 03 314 7034.

Note to journalists: Photos are available on request from the media team, contact charlene.smart@ecan.govt.nz