Another tool in the fight against velvetleaf will be trialled on some of Southland’s highest risk farms this week, when Rusty the velvetleaf detector dog takes to the paddocks.
Rusty and his owner John Taylor will spend three days working for Environment Southland, as part of this season’s velvetleaf management programme.
Senior biosecurity officer Randall Milne said 55 Southland properties were found with velvetleaf during a search and destroy response last year and the aggressive cropping weed poses a major risk to the region if it becomes established. Velvetleaf was discovered in contaminated fodder beet seed and at least 400 properties in Southland are known to have planted the suspect seed lines.
“This weed has the potential to devastate future crops by competing with them for nutrients and water. We haven’t found any plants this year, but that doesn’t mean we can be less vigilant.”
Last year Rusty and his owner worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries to develop a proof of concept training protocol, which will assist already trained detector dogs to discover velvetleaf.
Rusty has recently shown a proficiency in detecting velvetleaf in the Waikato region and will be put to the test on several Southland properties identified as highest risk, where velvetleaf was found closest to seeding last year.
“We cannot actively search fodder beet paddocks again this year, so we are relying heavily on farmers to check their properties regularly and report any signs of the weed. Having Rusty go through some paddocks will however provide an extra safeguard in some of our high risk areas,” Randall said.
All farmers who planted fodder beet are urged to continue checking their paddocks, regardless of whether they planted one of the suspect seed lines.
“Velvetleaf seeds can also be moved around on equipment or stock, so it’s important everybody stays vigilant and does their best to keep this weed out of Southland.”
Farmers who find any suspected velvetleaf plants should contact MPI on 0800 80 99 66. If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact Environment Southland on 0800 76 88 45.