MPI arable industry representative Karen Williams with FAR chief executive Nick Pyke. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A Wairarapa ban on growing pea crops could be extended for a further two years, after more weevils were recently found in the region.

Fourteen weevils were found on one trap crop east of Masterton shortly before Christmas, a discovery which means Ministry of Primary Industries [MPI] must decide whether to lift the ban in July, as previously scheduled, or to extend it by a further two years.

This will affect commercial growers and residential pea-growers alike.

In order to declare Wairarapa “pea weevil free”, there has to be no trace of the insect after a full two years.

While MPI Pea Weevil response manager John Appleby said the recent findings were a surprise, the majority of the region remained clear of the insect.

This 2017/18 summer period of surveillance was almost complete, with new traps crops sown at the same location of the recent discovery.

Over the same period in the previous summer, over 1500 weevils were found on trap crops.

“So, the longer that we can show there is no weevil, that gives us greater confidence [in eradication].”

Mr Appleby said if MPI decided to extend the ban for another two years to ensure eradication, New Zealand could be the first country in the world to become clear of the noxious insect.

MPI’s arable industry representative and Gladstone farmer, Karen Williams, said the expression “pea weevil free” was first mentioned at the end of last year by the advisory group.

When the insect was first discovered in July 2015, there was lengthy discussions around how to best manage the eradication process, she said.

“A ban of growing for two years was deemed to be the best, that was making a decision back then when it was really difficult as you didn’t know how it was going to play out.

“Last year we had significant numbers and this year we have very minor numbers, but we still want to do our utmost to ensure eradication occurs.”

While the decision to extend the ban has not been approved by governance, Mrs Williams believed it was a “likelihood”.

The eradication process had come a long way and no one would want to risk the ultimate result.

The response from growers was mixed, she said.

Some farmers felt MPI was tracking along well, while some were “horrified” and were concerned they may never get a pea growing contract again, she said.

More analyse of the trap crop data, and what the finding of the 14 weevils meant, had to be done before a decision was made, but Mrs Williams would like it to be decided sometime in February.

“We are pea growers, and the last thing we want is another two years of the ban, we really don’t, but I don’t think we could ignore the pain that we have been through to date and cut it short and compromise what could be a really good result,” she said.

Masterton cropping farmer Henry Reynolds said he was glad that there were positive signs of eradication.

“MPI are taking a strong approach towards it,” he said.

Looking outside the box

Wairarapa cropping farmers and research groups are breaking new ground as they look beyond the pea growing ban to other food markets the region can tap into.

The Wairarapa Cropping Strategy group, a combination of local members of the industry, held a field day on Thursday to chat about the first round of trial crops at one of two trial sites.

In October last year, a small plot of trial crops was sown on a property east of Masterton with harvest expected around autumn this year.

The trial crops include sunflowers for oil, chickpeas and lentils, purple wheat, durum wheat, and spelt.

Hemp was also being considered as a trial crop.

The group met in August last year to brainstorm alternative options, and to get an idea of what the region’s farmers were wanting to trial.

The project, managed by the Foundation of Arable Research, has funding from the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Land Management fund, Wairarapa’s district councils, and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Funding allows the project to follow market assessments, trials, and refine options over the next three years.

FAR chief executive Nick Pyke said the challenge now was to assess the market demand for these crops.

It was a good first season for the trial crops which was the first step in research for these products, he said.