Pestweb – the place to identify and find out about pasture weeds and pests
PestWebNZ™ is, as its name suggests, a website about pests. It pulls together in a concise and easy-to-use format the information farmers and farm advisors need about the major weeds and pests found on New Zealand farms that damage or limit the yields from pastures.
AgResearch's Dr Katherine Tozer has headed the project which first went live in mid-2011 with major inputs from Mr Colin Ferguson and other entomologists and weed science teams.
The project was initiated by a team of farmers from Otago, Waikato and Northland who were struggling with a number of pasture pests on farm.
“Weeds and insect pests can severely limit pasture production throughout New Zealand but information about them has often been fragmented and difficult to find,” says Dr Tozer.
“PestWebNZ offers a single website (www.pestweb.co.nz) with all the information farmers need about these pests.”
A 2009 review by Biosecurity New Zealand estimated the economic cost to New Zealand agriculture, horticulture and forestry through lost production as a result of weeds, animal and invertebrate pests was approximately $2 billion.
PestWebNZ includes practical information to upskill farmers and their advisors on over 40 pests and weeds and provides alerts emailed out to registered users.
“These alerts provide timely information warning farmers of pest issues in their region and suggest appropriate management responses,” says Dr Tozer. “
Each pest is identified with photographs which cover its lifecycle. Information on its characteristics are highlighted in brief, with other pages providing information on the biology of the pest, its impact on farming and the latest information on control measures.
One of the site’s key features is the ability to help farmers identify a particular pest they find on the farm through a simple query and response system to identify the particular pest.
All the main pasture pests and key weeds are included on the site.
“Now we have developed the website and its user-friendly interface, we will be expanding the range of pests and weeds it covers,” says Dr Tozer. “Our aim is to include a total of 50 weeds and pests within 12 months.”
Dr Tozer says the site differs from other pest and weed reference sites.
“There are a number of alternative websites available but most have a commercial focus or don't combine both identiﬁcation and management options that are relevant to New Zealand farmers,” she says.
“PestWebNZ aims to set the industry standard as a reference site for the identification and management of weeds and pests with the quality of the information we provide and the control options we recommend.”
The site was developed with funding and in-kind support from the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, New Zealand Plant Protection Society, regional councils, commercial companies and AbacusBio Ltd.
“It has involved a great deal of work from a range of people and organisations to gather and review the content and to set up the technology and interface in a way that is simple, meaningful and useful for its users,” says Dr Tozer.
“We've been promoting the site through farmer field days, conferences and fliers. We also promote it by email to farm advisors, regional councils, seed merchants and others who are likely to refer farmers to the site.
“Visitors to the site have been really positive about the information available. In a recent survey users particularly commented on the positive benefits of the alert system and the pest identification tool.”
While the initial project was focused on weeds and pests which affect pasture, future developments may include extending the site to cover arable weeds and pests and developing a mobile application which could be used by farmers on location around the farm using their smart phones.
Analysis of website activity (from January to June 2012) revealed an average 24 visitor hits per day, visitors using the site at each visit for approximately 3.5 minutes, viewing six pages, with 31% of site visits being returning users. These statistics are reasonable for a technical-based, farmer and advisor-focused site; and are promising user uptake analytics for a website only a year into public use.
Conservatively, and using industry cost estimates for two major pasture pests only (grass grub and clover root weevil impacts of $400 million per annum to the pastoral sector), an indicative 1% reduction in costs due to early intervention and management (attributed to pre-emptive identification and impact assessment of the pests via the online PestWebNZ resource), would potentially save $4 million per annum in costs to the pastoral sector.
PestWebNZ total investment from 2009-2012 was $310,000 from the Sustainable Farming Fund and industry partners.