Pasture pests cost New Zealand farmers billions

Little bugs can mean big costs.

Researchers from a New Zealand research institute have estimated that the country’s animal livestock industries face $2.3 billion NZD (about $1.5 million USD) in damages due to pests each year. About $1.4 billion NZD of the losses go to the dairy industry.

According to Dairy Reporter, a lack of awareness of the problem on the part of New Zealand’s farmers spurred AgResearch to publish a paper on the effects of grass grubs, black beetles, nematodes, weevils and other pasture pests that decrease livestock productivity.

“That was the main prompt, although as entomologists we are aware that pasture pests have been causing our farmers a lot of trouble,” said researcher Colin Ferguson. “But it has been very difficult convincing funding providers and even the farmers themselves that doing something about this damage is worthwhile.”

Pasture pests are insects that affect animals out to graze, either by damaging the quality of the nutrient-providing plants in the pasture itself or by harming the animals. The grass grub is one of the most serious problems in New Zealand. Its larvae eat the roots of the grasses and clovers in the pasture, leading to dead, yellow areas.  When animals aren’t getting enough healthy food, or are getting diseases spread by pests, they produce less milk and meat.

AgResearch says that biopesticides, which are derived from natural materials, might be a solution for the pasture pest problem as the industry and regulators try to minimize use of other pesticides, like organophosphates.

“What this provides us is a good picture of the challenge we and farmers face with pasture pests, and it reinforces the need to invest in new and cost-effective ways to better control these pests,” Ferguson said.

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