Last week I spent three days in Wellington at Federated Farmers' National Conference.

One of the issues that flagged real concern is the number of biosecurity incursions Federated Farmers, the Ministry-MPI, and wider industry have had to deal with.

In the past most of our on-farm biosecurity issues have related to livestock issues, with Tb and the Theileria tick coming to mind.

One might recall the emergency procedures put in place when specimens of fruit fly were found in traps in the Auckland area and there's the threat of Foot and Mouth (FMD), which is endemic in some regions of the world.


But this year the import of seed for our arable and sport turf industry from Europe and America has resulted in certified seed being found to be contaminated.

The contaminated seed sourced from Italy and palletised in Denmark initially met our import health standards, but once in the country has impacted on fodder beet crops in the South Island.

This resulted in the invasive weed velvetleaf, reportedly the world's worst, becoming well and truly established this past autumn.

Velvetleaf is a broadleaf plant that can grow up to two metres, is particularly invasive and has a seed life in the ground of 60 plus years.

It means that from an on-farm management perspective, it would therefore not be sound practice to repeat crop an area already affected.

Velvetleaf also has a presence in the maize industry and can only have come in via imported seed or within imported feed.

The velvetleaf seed also survives ensilaging and the digestive process of an animal.

There is a consensus we have reached the point where we need to manage the risk within New Zealand because of how widespread it has become.

In the Waikato and Bay of Plenty a considerable amount of maize is grown and traded.

Growers and purchasers in their own best interests need to be making sure they are asking the direct questions.

In recent times we have also seen an infestation of Blackgrass in Canterbury coming in via turf grass seed for sports fields imported from Denmark. Pea weevil found in the Wairarapa is reportedly within a crop where the seed was sourced from America.

One of the great advantages of living and farming in the South Pacific surrounded by a huge expanse of ocean, is we are disease free.

As a nation we must protect that status very diligently. The classic case of letting our guard down is the Psa virus, which certainly wasn't home grown but almost destroyed our kiwifruit industry.

It is quite clear to me that if we are to capitalise on our geographical position it is time for a complete review of how we manage imports and control our borders.

Why should we be spending time and resources controlling something that wasn't here a short time ago?

We naturally have a significant point of difference to the rest of the world so we need to keep it that way.

- Alan Wills is president of Rotorua-Taupo Federated Farmers