Regional council staff will soon be able make robust decisions around the costs and benefits of weed control thanks to the work of AgResearch scientists.

A new and user-friendly online Regional Weed Management Cost:Benefit web-app for regional weed management programme evaluation allows them to make science-based decisions on which weeds to include in their pest management plans.

The tool will be unveiled to Regional council staff from throughout New Zealand at a conference in Whangarei on Thursday and is already available online.

Graeme Bourdôt, from AgResearch’s Farm Systems South Team at Lincoln, says the app marks a monumental shift because until now, cost benefit analyses under the Biosecurity Act often haven’t been well founded in science or dealt adequately with uncertainty.

“This has been designed to enable a Regional council to meet its requirements under the Biosecurity Act; whether or not a weed can be justifiably included in a Regional Pest Management Plan and attract ratepayer funding to manage it regionally. To get it on the list the Council has to show that the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

“I had known for a while that modelling tools and scientific knowledge exist that would really help Regional council make better decisions if they had access to them and if they were packaged in a user-friendly way. So it’s great to have these now available.

“Regional council staff have never had this sort of power at their fingertips. In the past they’ve employed independent resource economists to undertake a cost benefit analysis but now, the staff themselves will be able to take the driving role.”

The work was undertaken in a subcontract as part of the Landcare Research-led programme Beating Weeds II funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to develop a weed prioritisation framework and associated models and decision support tools to assist Regional council staff in their weed management decision-making.

“Changes to the Biosecurity Act in 2012, and its associated National Policy Direction (NPD) require all 16 Regional councils to standardise how they approach regional pest management. The NPD provides guidance to councils on this, and our apps provide some key tools,” Dr Bourdôt says.

The cost benefit app enables the user to define the weed, its invasion trajectory in the absence and presence of the proposed weed management programme, the value of the asset being protected, the effect of the weed on this value and the cost of the proposed weed management programme providing the protection. Sensitivity testing is provided for and enables the user to identify those parameters to which the net benefit of the programme is most sensitive.

Dr Bourdôt also sees potential for the tool to be applied further.

“It could be applied to other types of pests - mammals, insects and so forth - that may be considered for control at a regional level and thus be bound by the requirements of the Biosecurity Act.”

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