The ban on growing pea crops in Wairarapa has been extended for another two years, but the end is in sight, the Ministry of Primary Industries says.
In order to declare Wairarapa “pea weevil-free”, there must no trace of the insect for a full two years.
The additional two-year extension decision was announced on Tuesday at a meeting with growers, held by MPI and the Foundation of Arable Research.
The region has “two hot spots” where the insect was found in the 2017/18 season, but a review in 12 months could allow pea crops to be reintroduced in areas where the insect hasn’t been detected since 2016.
MPI’s arable industry representative and Gladstone farmer Karen Williams, a member of the governance group managing the issue, said that while the ban extension was “disappointing”, the progress that had been made was tracking in the right direction.
“One possible scenario is that the area outside the hot spot may have the Controlled Area Notice lifted with restrictions in the hot spot remaining until such time as it has two years freedom,” she said.
She did not believe farmers would be surprised by the decision to extend the ban after MPI announced the discovery of the 15 weevils.
“We have done the hard yards, we really have . . . and the risk was too high [to not continue the ban],” she said.
A two-year blanket growing ban was introduced in Wairarapa in July 2016, after the discovery of the pea weevil insect in April that year.
In the 2016/17 season, 1735 weevils were found in the insect trap crops.
But in the 2017/18 season, only 15 were found in two trap crop locations about two kilometres apart in east Masterton – 14 on one farm, and one on another.
A second round of trap crops was planted after this discovery but no insects were found.
MPI entomologist David Voice said the 15 insects found recently were likely to be an older variety that hibernated through the seasons.
Another possibility was they could have been from plants growing in home vegetable gardens.
Mr Voice said some farmers might question “how did we end up with 15 weevils after a two-year ban?”.
But he said they are “hardy creatures” that only breed once a year.
“Considering the high numbers in previous years we were quite pleased, but I guess there is a bit of disappointment that we didn’t get zero,” Mr Voice said.
After controlling the pea crops for almost two years, pea weevil may be close to a population collapse, he said.
He acknowledged it was a painful wait for growers, but the number of the insects found in the recent season was “encouraging”.
“I will be very disappointed if we find any pea weevil in this coming spring, but I suppose this is a possibility,” Mr Voice said.
Mrs Williams urged the Wairarapa community to remain vigilant with pea crops, with the movement of pea straw in the region a concern.
“We are not worried about bringing weevil into the region, it’s if we have the wee guy hibernating here, and if the pea shoots, we have are a food source for them to be sustained on.”