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.

AgResearch scientists have developed a tool to help airport managers control the problem, a grass containing a special novel endophyte that naturally deters wildlife and insects.

​Bird strikes at airports cost the aviation industry an estimated US$1.2 billion annually in both damage to airplanes and deterrence measures.

The endophyte is a natural fungus that grows between plant cells in many ryegrasses and tall fescues. It makes the grasses unpalatable to both insects and animals without harming them, and therefore deters both insect eating and herbivorous birds such as ducks and geese. Initial reports have shown that it can reduce the number of birds in sown areas by 70-80 percent.

The discovery was patented and commercialised by AgResearch company Grasslanz Technology and is being marketed by PGG Wrightson Turf.

Airport consultants and managers and turf agronomists from Europe, America, Canada, China and Australia are in New Zealand this week to learn about the application and usage of the seed, so they can advise airports and regulatory authorities in their home regions on the benefits of the grass.

Sam Livesey, Business Analyst at Grasslanz Technology 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 says that they’re bringing 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.

“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 has been taking part in seminars at the AgResearch Lincoln campus, and will be shown the grass in action at Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland Airports as well as sports grounds.

One of the attendees of the seminar, Tim Lodge from Agrostis, an English turf consultancy company says that the seminar has been a great mixture of academic and practical information which has prepared him well to bring the technology back to the UK.

“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.”

This technology won Grasslanz Technology the DuPont Innovation Award 2010/11 for performance materials. In 2012 this product was a winner at the NZ Hi-tech Awards and the HSBC Most innovative product form an emerging market award – Agritech.

For more information about the Avanex technology and other endophyte technologies, visit http://www.grasslanz.com/