Ingenious Kiwi grass prepares to go global

An ingenious Kiwi solution to the billion dollar bird strike problem is getting ready to go global after impressing airport experts from around the world.

Bird strikes at airports cost the aviation industry an estimated US$1.5 billion annually in both damage to airplanes and deterrence measures. A team of AgResearch scientists led by Chris Pennell and Phil Rolston have developed one of the first permanent tool to help airport managers address the problem, a grass containing a special novel endophyte, AR601.

The endophyte is a natural fungus that grows between plant cells. It makes the grasses unpalatable to both insects and animals, deterring both insect-eating and herbivorous birds such as ducks and geese. Trials at airports in New Zealand have shown that it can deter the number of birds from sown areas by 70-80%.

The discovery was patented and is being commercialised by AgResearch subsidary Grasslanz Technology, and is being marketed by PGG Wrightson Turf.
Airport consultants and managers and turf agronomists from Europe, America, Canada, China and Australia have visited New Zealand to learn about the application and usage, so they can advise airports and regulatory authorities in their home regions on the benefits.

Sam Livesey, Business Analyst at Grasslanz Technology Ltd in Lincoln says that the technology has huge potential, and this is a good opportunity to open a worldwide market.

“The endophyte technology we’ve pioneered here could have worldwide applications in aviation, sports fields, parks, golf courses and orchards in temperate environments,” he says.

Two endophytes branded as ‘Avanex Unique Endophyte Technology’ have been introduced into two turf grasses: Jackal, a tall fescue for the aviation industry and Colosseum, a perennial ryegrass used in sports and amenity turf areas. The Avanex products could also prove profitable for arable farmers in New Zealand who grow the premium grasses for seed.

Trials at New Zealand airports have shown a significant reduction in bird numbers on areas sown with the endophytic grass, reducing the risk of bird strike at take-off and landing.

Mark Shaw, who heads the promotion and sales of Avanex for PGG Wrighton Turf said an Avanex consultants course held in March 2013 brought together airport and turf consultants from around the world to show them how effective use of this grass can provide solutions around habitat management on airports and reduce the use of insecticides in public spaces was a huge success.

“This is the only deterrent grass in the world at the moment, and it is one of the few permanent deterrents that can be used at the airport. Basically, we’ve made a restaurant that the birds don’t want to eat at, so they’ll go somewhere better.

“We’re aiming to speed up the adoption of avian deterrent grass technology by providing accredited consultants in which airports can have confidence, and influential academics and regulators will be able to speak confidently on the product,” he says.

The group took part in seminars at the AgResearch Lincoln campus, and was shown the grass in action at Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland Airports as well as sports grounds.

Tim Lodge from Agrostis, an English turf consultancy company says he was impressed by the technology and the opportunities it affords.

“We’ve been very impressed by the technology and it’s been good to talk about and resolve the questions that would arise from the public about its adoption,” he says.

“The fact that the technology is a concentration of a natural phenomenon, will allay any environmental concerns people may have and I think it certainly be adopted by airfields, as it’s a great technology.”