Online tool boosts fight against costly pests and weeds

A free online tool used in the fight against invasive pests and weeds is experiencing a surge in new interest as farmers seek to ward off infestations that can mean millions of dollars in lost earnings.

The AgResearch information tool, AgPest, draws on the growing body of expertise gathered by AgResearch scientists about pests and weeds that are impacting the agricultural sector.

Users can match what they find on their properties with the information available on the AgPest website to determine what the pest or weed is, and how best to manage it.

“We know how devastating a pest or weed infestation can be, both in terms of pasture growth and the costs to manage it, and that’s why we are providing this free tool to support the farmers and property owners,” says AgResearch Senior Scientist Katherine Tozer.

“Since the start of last year, we have had more than 45,000 visits where there has been engagement with the site, with an estimated three quarters of that being first time visits. Clearly the site is making a difference and that’s getting noticed.”

Valerie Walpot – the manager of a Central Canterbury farm – says her role requires her to be across a range of issues on the farm, and the concern with pests and weeds is that “sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know”.

She has seen first-hand the serious impact pests can have on a farm, and how the knowledge of scientists can help. Now when she comes across the unwelcome farm visitors, AgPest helps her fill in the gaps in her own knowledge.

“It gives you that feeling of control because you know what you are dealing with.”

Dr Tozer says there are around 500 registered users of AgPest, and they are provided with timely alerts about weeds or pests that are specific to their regions or farming sector.

“While we are continuing to provide this online support to the farming community, behind the scenes we are working hard to find new ways to help farmers fight these weeds and pests.”

AgPest is supported by other key agricultural organisations, including Beef + Lamb New Zealand and regional councils, which also share the AgResearch information to ensure specific sectors receive it. This includes information via texts to mobile phones by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, which people can register for at its website.

The email alert service is free to sign up for, and can be accessed through the website www.AgPest.co.nz, or through Twitter @agpestNZ