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Published: 2016-03-31 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council staff have travelled to Southland this week to join the national effort to halt the spread of the nasty agricultural weed velvetleaf.

Velvetleaf is a serious weed pest overseas, damaging crops by competing with them for nutrients and water. In New Zealand, it is an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act.

To date, the aggressive pest plant has been detected in fodder beet crops on 50 properties across New Zealand. Canterbury has a majority of cases, with three sites identified so far in the Waikato region.

This week, four Waikato Regional Council staff headed to Southland to inspect properties and help contain the pest plant as part of a national response led by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

“Velvetleaf is one of the world’s worst cropping weeds, so it’s really important technical pest plant experts work together to protect industry, the environment and economy,” said the regional council’s biosecurity pest pants team leader, Darion Embling.

“We’ll be sending up to four staff to Southland every week over the next month, while still undertaking work at farms in Matamata, Piopio and Ngakuru to contain and eradicate new outbreaks of velvetleaf.

“So far the Waikato has not been badly affected, but we’ll need to work together to ensure this menace doesn’t become widespread in our region.

“For those properties where it’s already been found, managing this pest is going to require a sustained effort over a number of years and diligence by farmers to report possible sightings,” Mr Embling said.

Farmers who have planted the Kyros and Bangor varieties of imported fodder beet seed are advised to take particular care to look out for the weed in their crop. However, MPI is considering the possibility that other varieties could also be contaminated with the velvetleaf seed.

People finding suspect velvetleaf should photograph any plants, mark the location of plants so they can be found again easily and contact MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

Do not pull up plants or graze stock in infested crops. An MPI or regional council staff member will provide strict protocols to follow which includes carefully removing plants to make sure seed is not spread.

What does velvetleaf look like?

Velvetleaf is an annual broad-leaved herb that grows up to 2.5m tall. It has buttery-yellow flowers about 3cm 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 and are spread by water, farm machinery when harvesting grain, through livestock and as a contaminant of grain.