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Published: 2016-04-11 00:00:00

Velvetleaf has been found on more farms in the region, prompting Waikato Regional Council to ramp up its local response to this highly invasive pest plant.

Already the council has been working to contain and eradicate infestations of velvetleaf on farms in Matamata, Piopio, Atiamuri and Ngakuru, as part of the Waikato regional response to infected fodder beet crops.

However, the council has since received information from the public, landowners and farm contractors about an additional five infestations. These appear to be related to the movement of infested maize or maize silage and have been found scattered throughout the region, but in particular in the North Waikato, Matamata-Piako and South Waikato districts.

“We’re also inspecting a further 14 sites where it’s suspected velvetleaf might be growing. These latest developments mark a significant escalation in the scale of the velvetleaf problem in our region,” said the council’s biosecurity spokesman, Patrick Whaley.

“We will be working hard to help landowners manage the situation, in co-operation with the Ministry for Primary Industries which is leading the national response to velvetleaf infestations linked to potentially contaminated fodder beet seed.”

The scale of some of the discoveries, plus the potential for more fresh sites to be uncovered in the Waikato, means the council has set up an incident management team. The team is developing a long term management plan to build on work already underway.

Mr Whaley said it was unclear at this stage how the new infestations occurred and the source of the outbreaks would form part of ongoing investigations.

“For now we strongly encourage landowners to keep an eye out for this pest and ensure they don’t do anything to help spread it.”

Council chairperson Paula Southgate said the welfare needs of affected landowners was of the highest priority.

“On farm management of velvetleaf is complex and can have a significant impact on individual landowners. Staff are really conscious of ensuring farmers have the support they need and so the council is working closely with the Rural Support Trust and Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management welfare staff,” Cr Southgate said.

Velvetleaf is one of the world’s most invasive pest plants, damaging crops by competing with them for nutrients and water. In New Zealand, it is an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act.

It is an annual broad-leaved herb that grows between one and 2.5 metres tall. It has buttery-yellow flowers about three centimetres across. It flowers from spring through autumn. Leaves are large, heart-shaped and are velvety to the touch.

Seedlings are vigorous and the plant grows rapidly in the first few months after germination. Seeds remain viable for up to 60 years. The seeds are spread by water, farm machinery when harvesting grain, through livestock and as a contaminant of grain.

Landowners should keep an eye out for the plant and report any signs of velvetleaf to the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 80 99 66.

Farmers are also advised to photograph any plants and mark their location so they can be found again easily. Do not pull up plants or graze stock in infested crops. A ministry or regional council staff member will provide strict protocols to follow which includes carefully removing plants to make sure seed is not spread.