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Pea growing ban nearing an end

Peas are great for soil and crop rotation as they help fix nitrogen and don’t require fertilisers or insecticides. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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Pea plants could soon be found again in Wairarapa gardens and fields if no presence of pea weevil is detected and the ban on the crop is lifted this season.

Pea weevils were first found in the region in April 2016, prompting the Ministry of Primary Industries to put a ban in place on growing peas.

Small areas were planted as trap crops to attract the remaining weevils and last season none were found, meaning the end of the ban could be in sight.

The prospect of which has Martinborough farmer Richard Kershaw hopeful.

He said he would “definitely” look at going back into peas once the ban had lifted and had been planting up to 160-hectares in the crop.

“It’s been hard.”

Long-standing Wairarapa seed processing plant Masterton Vegetable Seed Ltd closed in December 2018, due to low volumes of seeds growing in the region and increased operating costs.

The company was not eligible for the same compensation as pea growers who were granted ex-gratia payments to ensure they were no better or worse off than they would have been continuing to grow peas.

Waiting out the ban had been difficult, but Kershaw said he appreciated the support of urban growers too.

“We really appreciate the way the community has stood behind us.

“If it wasn’t for people in the urban areas [complying with the ban], we wouldn’t get peas back.”

Additional funding from MPI’s Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Fund for alternative cropping allowed Kershaw to experiment with hemp growing in the interim.

“A lot of guys have tried other crops that haven’t always been profitable and there’s been a bit more lamb trading,” he said.

Like Kershaw, some farmers had also pivoted to crops like hemp, maize grain, and red clover.

Karen Williams. PHOTO/FILE

Others, like Gladstone farmer and Federated Farmers arable industry group chair, Karen Williams, planted more of crops they were already growing like barley.

Williams was one of those assigned to the pea weevil governance group.

She said the loss of a high-value crop had hit many Wairarapa farmers hard.

“[Farmers] found it a challenge to find alternative crops with the same returns.”

She said the group leading the response was optimistic that they had the chance to eradicate the pest – something never done in other countries as discoveries were considered “too far gone”.

“The early days were pretty challenging as we looked to find a way forward.

“There had been movement of peas and pea straw in and out of the region so there was concern that even if a regional ban was put in place, pea weevil could already have spread to other parts of New Zealand.”

Although farmers are likely to go back to growing peas, she said rebuilding the Wairarapa pea farming industry wouldn’t happen overnight.

It would require support from the seed companies to bring back the contracts lost as a result of the ban and the reopening of Masterton Vegetable Seed Ltd, or the establishment of a new seed processing plant.

Violations of the ban, where pea straw was found at several properties in December, had some people worried that the ban may be extended, but no weevil or larvae were found.

Biosecurity New Zealand team manager of biosecurity response John Brightwell said no charges had been laid in relation to the breaches in Greytown and Featherston.

“Pea straw is low risk, but it was significant enough that we took steps [to destroy it].”

He said the ban had been a burden for many people but there had been “extraordinary” help from the community.

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