The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), primary sector industry groups and regional councils are stepping up the search for the pest agricultural weed velvetleaf in a bid to contain it to existing locations and halt its spread.
MPI Plants and Environment Surveillance Manager Mark Bullians says while velvetleaf may sound pretty, it's anything but. In locations where it is established internationally, it has significant impacts on crop production.
"It is a very invasive weed that is very successful at competing with crops for nutrients, space and water," Mr Bullians says.
"Right now we're still working to locate outbreaks and remove them from the ground, ideally before seed drops."
The Ministry's main message is for farmers who have planted fodder beet seed.
"Check your fodder beet crops and if you believe you have found this weed, photograph any plants, mark the locations so they can be easily found again, and call us on the free hotline 0800 80 99 66.
"We will arrange for technical experts to come and remove velvetleaf plants. Do not attempt to remove them yourself as this risks spreading the seed." Mr Bullians says there is good advice for farmers on its website.
"There has been a good response to our call for sightings. Currently velvetleaf has been confirmed on 50 properties nationally. There has been some weed found in most regions, but Canterbury has the clear majority of cases."
The common denominator in all infestations to date is the planting of imported fodder beet seed. Two varieties in particular are implicated - Kyros and Bangor – although MPI is considering the possibility that other varieties could be involved.
"We are also investigating how the contaminated fodder beet seeds could have entered New Zealand. We know that the affected imported fodder beet seed consignments met New Zealand's importing requirements and were certified by the exporting country. MPI is currently reviewing the import requirements for seed."
MPI is not just relying on farmers reporting finds. It is working actively with regional councils and the seed industry to trace where potentially contaminated seed was sold and inspect those properties for the presence of the weed.
While the search continues, work is underway developing the best possible options for controlling this pest.
"This is not a situation the Ministry is planning to walk away from," Mr Bullians says. "Managing this pest will require a sustained combined effort over many years."