Myrtle rust found for first time in Manawatu

Myrtle rust has been detected in Manawatu for the first time, the Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed today.

The fungus was found on a young ramarama (Lophomyrtus) in a planted area off Victoria Esplanade in Palmerston North.

Myrtle rust response spokesperson Dr Catherine Duthie says operational activity will start immediately to try to contain the disease.

“Hopefully, we have found it in this region early, which would give us a chance of trying to eliminate it or, at least, slow down the spread there. We are swinging straight into action. The infected plant will be removed and securely disposed of and one of our 7 field surveillance teams will begin an intensive inspection of myrtle plants on all properties within a200-metree radius.

“It is disheartening that myrtle rust has been detected in another region, but it is consistent with the expected infection pattern.

“Residents can help, by checking the myrtle plants in their garden. At this time of year, the fungus is still in its sporulation, or spreading, stage. This means it is very visible. Without touching the plant, you can look on either side of the leaves and new shoots for any sign of a bright yellow, powdery eruption. Some leaves could also be buckled or twisted, or look diseased with dry pustules that are grey or brown. It’s really important not to touch the plants or brush against them, as this can disrupt the spores and speed up its spread.”

Suspected cases of myrtle rust can be reported to the biosecurity freephone number – 0800 80 99 66.

The ministry will investigate suspected cases, track and monitor its spread, and collect information to help understand the disease’s impact on New Zealand.

At 19 March, there has been a total of 409 properties affected by myrtle rust on mainland New Zealand: Northland (4 properties), Auckland (63), Waikato (33), Bay of Plenty (92), Taranaki (200), Manawatu (1) and Wellington (16). In the last couple of weeks, most detections have been in Taranaki and Auckland.

There have been no detections in the South Island to date, although north-western areas were identified in climate modelling of being at a high risk from spores carried on the wind from Australia.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries


Science Media Centre posts expert comment on those pesky Asian stink bugs

Not in our orchards, if we remain vigilant…

As we have reported (here, here and here) several car shipments were turned away at the border last month because they were infested with Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs.

The bug has spread across the globe from its original home in East Asia and is one of border security’s most wanted.

The agricultural pest is not currently in the country, the Science Media Centre notes in a press release today. But the Ministry for Primary Industries has been asking the public to keep an eye out for the distinctive critter, which is much larger than our native stink bugs.

Biosecurity experts are worried about the impact it might have on both native plants and agricultural exports.

To help inform us about this invasive pest, the Science Media Centre sought answers to a raft of questions from biosecurity experts.

Continue reading

Government and industry unite on Mycoplasma bovis

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor today had more to say about the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak response – and came up with costs.

These include the sums which private industry will chip in.

Funding of $85 million for operational and compensation costs for the outbreak response, beginning 1 July 2017 to the end of the current financial year, was approved by Cabinet today, Mr O’Connor said.

In December last year, $10 million was approved.

The Ministry for Primary Industries estimates that total operational costs of $35 million and compensation liabilities of $60 million will be required until a decision on whether or not to eradicate the disease is made.

Since Mycoplasma bovis was found in July last year, the ministry has spent $10 million on the operational response and $2.5 million on compensation claims.

Industry bodies DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association have committed $11.2 million. towards operational costs.

“This is a sign of a healthy Government-industry relationship and allows us to continue to contain the disease to determine its full spread, keeping the option of eradication open until that decision is made in a few weeks,” says Mr O’Connor.

“This has been a particularly challenging time for everyone and in particular those caught up in this disease. The animal tracing to determine the spread is ongoing and poor uptake of NAIT, especially for farm-to-farm animal movements, has slowed this work considerably.

“I am heartened by the industry contribution as we work together to give ourselves the best possible shot of getting rid of this disease.”

The ministry’s work programme is driving to a decision on eradication being made in late March to early April, understanding the extent of the spread through the bulk milk testing and animal tracing is key to this, Mr O’Connor said.

A significant piece of work is under way to look at the technical feasibility of eradication and cost benefit of eradication versus long-term management. Either option will require additional funding.

Mr O’Connor has also asked officials to explore the feasibility and implications of making the North Island Mycoplasma bovis-free, because the large majority of infected properties are in the South Island.

There are currently 24 active infected properties (which are under movement restrictions). There have been 29 properties confirmed with infection since the response began but some have been amalgamated into one unit, or had restrictions lifted following depopulation and cleaning.

A total of 42 properties are under Restricted Place notices (includes the infected properties), 54 on Notice of Direction and 741 under surveillance. A total of 51 compensation claims have been received with 10 paid in part or in full.



Biosecurity Minister coy about costs of dealing with Mycoplasma bovis

Budget confidentiality was the reason given by Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor for being coy about the costs of dealing with Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease.

National’s Nathan Guy – Mr O’Connor’s predecessor as Minister of Biosecurity –
recalled him telling Parliament on 14 February that industry hadn’t been approached for financial assistance to deal with the disease. Was he now aware (Mr Guy asked) that industry has been formally approached to fund about $11 million in operation costs?

Mr O’Connor said he was aware of discussions that have taken place and that there are figures on the table.

“They are subject to a Cabinet process, and I’m not in a position to comment on them.”

With just 30 days to go until an eradication decision is reached by the Minister, Mr Guy then asked, what advice had he received on the likely costs of full eradication?

Mr O’Connor said he had seen a number of costs bandied around.

“None have been confirmed, and until we have accurate information on the likelihood, the risks, and the extent of the disease and its possible eradication, I’m not in a position to comment on them. They will be before a Cabinet process,s and we’ll be sharing those decisions with industry so that they buy into what we will be doing.”

Mr Guy then referred to information from the annual review of the Ministry for Primary Industries at a Primary Production Committee and asked what is the Minister’s delegated financial authority in respect of biosecurity?

There’s a vote for primary industries, and within that there are appropriations across a large number of areas and responsibilities, the Minister explained in reply.

These will not change.

“We are having business units, as announced before Christmas. They’ll be set up, they’ll be focused, to achieeve a lot better outcome than had been achieved by the previous Government in the areas of biosecurity and food safety, where that member oversaw a system that you could drive a boat through—a boat full of cars full of marmorated stink bugs.

“We’re going to change that. We have turned them around and we will turn them around.”

Biosecurity Minister is further questioned about stink bugs from Japan

Damien O’Connor … committed to keeping  out the brown marmorated stink bug.

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was questioned in Parliament this week about assurances he had given  last week about stink bugs. He had said no vehicles were unloaded off ships carrying brown marmorated stink bugs from Japan recently.

But National’s Nathan Guy challenged him, saying around half the vehicles were unloaded from the Courageous Ace before loading was halted. Those cars, trucks, and buses sat on the wharf for several days before being reloaded back on to the vessel.

In reply, Mr O’Connor said he had been informed none had been unloaded.

“I will follow up on that.

“The important thing to know here — regardless of the actions that took place —is that we are absolutely committed to keeping out the brown marmorated stink bug, something that that member failed to do because he failed to resource the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and their biosecurity responsibilities properly.”

Mr Guy wasn’t finished and called for the Minister to explain how he could say the biosecurity net is working well when, in November last year, “15 live stink bugs — nine of them female — went on a 1,000-kilometre road trip to Christchurch having already passed MPI’s inspection in Auckland?”

Mr O’Connor conceded this had happened but said the biosecurity system taken over by the Labour-New Zealand First Government “had huge holes in it”.

As those holes have been discovered “we have moved immediately to shut them down”.

Very few of the 1,200 import health standards that the previous Minister was responsible for had been reviewed and upgraded.

“That’s why we are having to move through every part of the biosecurity system to give security to those New Zealand producers in the country—because we desperately need them.”

Next, Mr Guy noted the Minister had said “We cannot afford to let … in [stink bugs] and we will shut down the pathways [whenever] we find them.” He asked how this could be reconciled with large construction equipment being left on the wharf for days prior to it being eventually fumigated.

Mr O’Connor replied:

“Once again, I can’t explain the protocols and systems left to us by the previous Government. But I can tell you that we’re working through every one of those, and every member of the biosecurity system in this country knows that they’ve got a new Government with a new focus on biosecurity; they don’t have the same lazy old lax one that they had in the past.”

Finally, Mr Guy asked if the Minister has requested new urgent funding for extra resources in Japan after stating that his ministry does not have enough people offshore to inspect every vehicle; if not, why not?

Mr O’Connor replied “we don’t have enough people to inspect every single car being loaded on to a ship, but I can tell you that the protocols around that will be upgraded and offer us security that was never there under the hundreds of thousands of cars that that member let into this country.”

Stink bug alert: a fourth bulk carrier is ordered to leave New Zealand

The Ministry for Primary Industries has directed a fourth bulk carrier from Japan to leave New Zealand waters following the discovery of brown marmorated stink bug aboard the vessel.

The Glovis Caravel was ordered to leave New Zealand yesterday evening after the crew reported finding nearly 600 stink bugs, 12 of them alive, while the vessel was anchored near Auckland.

“Even though the vessel was sealed, we assessed the risk was too high for it to remain in New Zealand waters. It will now have to be treated off shore before it can return,” says Steve Gilbert, MPI Border Clearance Services Director.

The ministry has increased its border inspection and verification of bulk carriers arriving from Japan following a recent jump in detections of brown marmorated stink bug.

“Some of the carriers arriving New Zealand require no further action, but where there is contamination we have the option of denying entry,” said Mr Gilbert.

“We firmly believe our actions to date have prevented stink bugs from getting past the New Zealand border and welcome the support we have been getting from a range of industries.

Mr Gilbert said everyone appreciates a brown marmorated stink bug incursion could have a devastating impact on New Zealand agriculture.

MPI lifts ban on the movement of myrtle rust plants in Taranaki

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has lifted restrictions on the movement of myrtle plants or green waste from Taranaki.  But this is not a measure of success by biosecurity officials in their battle against the rust.  It simply reflects the reality that the rust has spread far beyond the control area.

A Controlled Area Notice put in place eight months ago made it illegal to move myrtle plant material from a 20-kilometre area in Waitara in north Taranaki – the area most affected by myrtle rust at that time.

Despite the restrictions, myrtle rust has continued to be detected outside Taranaki, says myrtle rust incident controller Dr Catherine Duthie.

“Recent weather experienced across much of the country – warm, wet and windy – has been optimal for myrtle rust sporulation and 6 regions are now known to be infected.

“The reasons for having a controlled area focused on Waitara no longer remain.”

Last June, most myrtle rust infections had been detected in plant nurseries on young plants that would be sold and moved elsewhere. The Controlled Area Notice aimed to restrict movement of susceptible plants to help reduce the spread of the disease to unaffected areas.

Since July, most detections have been found on mature trees in residential properties. This increases the likelihood that myrtle rust spores have been spreading naturally on the wind.

“Unfortunately, restricting movement of myrtle plant matter from one area could not contain the spread of the disease,” says Dr Duthie.

The removal of the Controlled Area Notice does not change the status of individual properties that have been placed under control through a Restricted Place Notice. These notices remain in force.

Dr Duthie praised the local community for a high level of support to the myrtle rust response.

“We have received an outstanding level of support and co-operation from across the community, from iwi, garden centres, and commercial nurseries, and the Department of Conservation. People have pulled together and have committed to doing all they can to protect our trees from this challenging fungus. None of us is giving up.

“We are collecting a lot of information to build a good picture of myrtle rust’s impacts and spread. There is research underway to better understand how the fungus behaves in New Zealand conditions and to identify risk factors, resistant species, and potential treatment and management tools. Communities are working together to initiate ongoing surveillance and seed banking programmes. And we continue to investigate and remove infected plants where this would help to contain the disease and slow its spread.”

The public are being encouraged to keep checking their myrtle plants and to immediately contact the biosecurity hotline (0800 80 99 66) if they spot any signs of myrtle rust. The ministry will investigate suspected infections and track the progress and spread of confirmed infections.