Documents show that four months passed before detection of pea weevil in Wairarapa was translated into a growing ban. PHOTO/FILE
By Emily Norman
One month has passed since news of the pea weevil crisis in Wairarapa broke to the public.
But official documents show the Ministry of Primary Industries took 119 days, from when the weevil was first identified, before a growing ban was placed in Wairarapa.
The weevil was confirmed by MPI’s Plant Health & Environment Laboratory on April 4, though official MPI documents suggest an incident controller and response manager were appointed to the case on March 10 this year.
The Wairarapa growing ban was placed more than four months later.
According to MPI documents, which were requested under the Official Information Act by the Green Party, the pea weevil was first detected in stored pea seeds held in a warehouse in Masterton “at the end of March”.
The name of the Masterton warehouse was omitted from the official documents.
Five varieties of pea seeds were found to contain the weevil, and these seeds were grown on 22 different properties in Wairarapa, but the weevil was only identified in seeds on eight farms.
MPI director of investigations, Veronica Herrera, said the ministry had managed the detection of pea weevil in a “timely and well-considered way”.
That involved a “thorough surveillance exercise” to see whether the weevil had spread, and the tracing and securing of of pea products from the affected area.
There was also “substantial work” carried out exploring options for managing the pest, as well as discussions with growers, Federated Farmers and industry representatives, Ms Herrera said.
“This work took place during the very low-risk period of the year where weevils are not active and therefore there was minimal risk of any spread while the best options were determined.”
Prior to the outbreak, pea sales from Wairarapa farms were estimated at $10m per year, and made up 10 per cent of the total pea production in New Zealand.
Pea weevil adult beetles hibernate during summer, autumn, and winter, and emerge from hibernation when temperatures reach 18C, to fly in search of field pea flowers.
They can fly up to 5km.
The documents show that all known infested seed had been located and treated, however some pea straw from infested properties had already been sold and was not able to be traced.
Prior to the outbreak, New Zealand had a competitive advantage on the international export market as all peas were spray-free due to the absence of pea weevil.
Ministry documents state that because of this, the pea weevil had the potential to decrease the value of the country’s pea industry.