Weevil win: We knocked the bastard off


By Karen Williams, Federated Farmers Arable Chairperson

Hats off to you, Wairarapa.  In the words of another Kiwi who achieved a world-first, “we knocked the bastard off”.

Okay, eradicating the region’s pea weevil incursion isn’t as grand as Ed Hillary and Tensing Norgay climbing Everest but in terms of biosecurity, and protecting an industry that earns us $50 million in domestic sales and $84 million in exports, it is a big deal.  It’s also another bug we don’t have to spray for.

As far as we know, no other country has successfully combatted this pest after an incursion.

It’s taken a region-wide and government agency effort to get where we are – that’s growers/farmers, home gardeners, Federated Farmers, local councils, Greater Wellington, local MPs, MPI, Biosecurity NZ, the Foundation for Arable Research, Assure Quality…a big thank-you to you all for your perseverance, flexibility and understanding.

A special thanks to growers.  They stepped up and accepted the disruption to their businesses to protect the rest of New Zealand from the potential impact of this pest.

At Monday’s event we hosted to announce the lifting of the four-year ban on growing peas and using pea straw in the Wairarapa, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor noted there’s often an assumption with pest incursions that it’s “one-way traffic.

“The assumption is we have to give up and accept it, use sprays or run biological systems, or in some other way try to deal with it.  But (with pea weevil) we’ve eradicated it – an amazing achievement.”

We’ve all learned useful lessons along the way, just as we have in the bold and even bigger campaign to knock the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis on the head.  Achieving that will be another world-first, and worth a massive celebration party!

When we embarked on the pea growing ban four years ago, it wasn’t known whether the weevil had spread out of the Wairarapa, or whether eradication was even possible.

Let’s be honest, the initial decision to seek a ban wasn’t popular – it was seen as a massive leap of faith. Some dark days and testy conversations followed.  There was pain for growers who had to abandon this important crop, and then wait for the system of ex-gratia compensation payments to bed in.

For me, it was an early test of the skills I’d picked up on an Agri-Women’s Development Trust leadership and governance programme. Though I’ve been involved in a number of significant issues and campaigns since, the work of the Pea Weevil Governance Group has been the most challenging – and satisfying.

It's a great example of Team Ag, local and central government pulling together on a common cause.

And kudos, too, to all the Wairarapa folk who joined in this commitment.  I know in the Kiwi psyche there’s a sort of squeamishness about ‘dobbing in’ people who do the wrong thing.  But with biosecurity incursions that threaten our growers, our exports, our jobs, there’s no room for hesitancy.  People who are ignorant of, or  wilfully ignore, biosecurity rules must be reined in quickly.  Fortunately, almost everybody in the Wairarapa played ball, including in the second half of the campaign as we set the trap crops and waited out the ‘two years pea weevil-free’ analysis, testing and monitoring.

The next step for us is to work with seed companies to bring back pea growing contracts, and once again return peas to the Wairarapa crop rotation.