Farmers at forefront of Chilean needle grass control

11 March 2014

Farmer and community awareness is the best way to contain the spread of Chilean needle grass, according to farmers and biosecurity experts familiar with the invasive plant.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand, together with other industry partners, has funded a 20-minute video which shows how to identify the weed and describes best practice response and control guidelines.

Chilean needle grass is a major threat to pastoral farming, particularly on the drier East Coast of New Zealand.

The seed head of the grass “drills” into sheep and cattle hides and ultimately into the animal’s muscle, creating lesions. The damaged pelts are worthless and the processed meat is downgraded, because the lesions must be trimmed out.

The grass itself is unpalatable for much of the year and smothers other species of higher nutritional value.

B+LNZ extension uptake manager Gary Walton says the grass is closely related to Nassella tussock and needs to be treated with the same respect. “We know the magnitude of the Nassella problem and don’t want to see Chilean needle grass take a similar hold.”

The plant pest was first identified in Marlborough during the 1930s. Today, an estimated 2,500ha of Marlborough is considered unsuitable for sheep farming because of it. It was found in Hawke’s Bay in 1962 and a long-running surveillance programme in Canterbury picked up the first sighting in Cheviot in 2008.

All parties agree that the best form of containment is community awareness: If you see a grass you don’t recognise, notify the regional council immediately.

How to identify Chilean needle grass

  • thin, purple flower heads during spring and summer
  • stiff hairs sticking up on either side of the leaf where it joins on to the stalk

What can you do to protect your property?

  • learn what Chilean needle grass looks like
  • if you see a grass plant on your property that you don’t recognise, contact your regional council immediately
  • lock boundary gates, so you are fully aware of vehicles entering your property
  • be aware where visitors have travelled from
  • be careful buying hay from near contaminated areas

Farmers already affected by Chilean needle grass are at the forefront of preventing its spread. They manage stock so that any animals grazing contaminated pasture are sold for processing only and they insist vehicles and machinery are high-pressure hosed before leaving the property.

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