Ministry to meet costs of search

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THE Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will meet all costs associated with an intensive eightweek ‘‘search and destroy’’ exercise to rid Southland farms of the invasive crop weed velvetleaf.
The weed is believed to have come in New Zealand in contaminated fodder beet seed. Searching saw plants recovered from 251 properties, including 55 in Southland and 45 in Otago.
Environment Southland (ES) led the search in Southland. Hundreds of people were involved from organisations including ES, Gore District Council, Southland District Council, agricultural and forestry companies, South Roads and Fonterra, and some Southern Institute of Technology students.
ES biosecurity manager Richard Bowman said MPI had given an assurance it would meet search costs from March 7 to April 13, after which a funding cap was put in place.
While ES had anticipated having some other costs incurred after April 13 met, it was ‘‘good to have clarity’’ MPI would meet all costs.
ES had already assembled all its invoices and sent them to MPI, Mr Bowman said. He declined to give the total.
MPI national incident controller David Yard confirmed MPI would meet all search costs throughout the country. Nationally, the total was more than $1 million, but regional breakdowns were not available yet, he said.
While the ‘‘search and destroy’’ phase was over, there was still much work to do to ensure velvetleaf did not spread in future years, Mr Yard said. MPI was in the process of appointing a national co-ordinator to look after velvetleaf management long-term, and was planning a series of workshops throughout the country next month.
As well as providing general information, there would be an opportunity at the workshops for farmers who had had velvetleaf discovered on their properties to meet ‘‘one on one’’ with advisers to discuss future farm management, he said.
No date for meetings in Southland had been set yet.
Mr Yard said MPI would need the assistance of farmers and regional councils.
‘‘Each plant which germinates can potentially produce 17,000 seeds. In future years farmers are going to need to know what to look for and how to minimise spread.’’
Mr Yard said agricultural contractors also needed to improve machinery hygiene practices, after evidence velvetleaf seeds were spread from farms where fodder beet crops had been planted to other farms via seed drilling machines.
‘‘Some seed spreading was promulgated by lax practices… Farmers need to be sure contractors use best practice procedures.’’
Mr Bowman said it was ‘‘inevitable’’ some plants had been missed in Southland, despite the intensive searching, and he was pleased to hear MPI was developing a strategy and holding regional workshops.
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