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Dairy commits $5 million to ambitious zero pest plan

Dairy commits $5 million to ambitious zero pest plan

By Suze Metherell

Feb. 26 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's dairy industry has committed $5 million over two years to the fight against stoats, rats and possums, which destroy native flora and fauna, and can carry bovine tuberculosis.

The Zero Invasive Predators scheme, or ZIP, formed after a $10 million injection from philanthropic fund NEXT Foundation, and a further commitment of $5 million from the Department of Conservation. The funds will be used to develop the Wellington-based conservationist’s barrier system, which aims to prevent the reintroduction of pests in cleared zones, without using fences.

New Zealand's major dairy companies, including Fonterra Cooperative, Westland Milk Products, Open Country, Synlait and Tatua, have contributed to the programme, which is trialing its system on the 400 hectare Bottle Rock peninsula in the Marlborough Sounds. The dairy industry wants to eradicate possums because of the TB threat to dairy herds.

"Right now we have 23 infected herds on the West Coast. Whilst that number doesn't sound large it is 80 percent of the infected dairy herds in New Zealand sitting on the West Coast," said Rod Quin chief executive of Westland Milk, which has committed $500,000 to the venture. "For the farmers that are impacted it is materially difficult position to be in, they need now to become TB free, and in some cases that will take many years and enormous amount of resources to help them. It's financially crippling for some of those farmers, and they need a lot of support."

Infected cows are still able to produce milk, because pasteurisation makes it fit for human consumption, Quin said, but any threat to New Zealand's "clean green" brand was taken very seriously by the industry. While the chemical 1080 works at killing the pests, it was controversial and didn't stop pests returning, something the ZIP scheme intends to stop.

The project got off the ground after funding from NEXT, the government's conservation agency, and philanthropists Sam and Gareth Morgan. After clearing an area, typically a peninsula, ZIP sets up a barrier which either traps or detects pest reinvading and notifies remote conservationists, rather than needing a labour force to patrol traps.

The project first cleared a 40 hectares of Putanui Point in the Pelorus Sounds in three months and has kept it pest free for the past 18-months ago, Al Bramley ZIP chief executive said. The initial success gave the impetus to seek funding and trial it on a larger scale.

"We can irradiate areas using so let’s do it using standard techniques and lets work on this new stuff," Bramley said. "It's creating a barrier in the landscape which holds, that isn't a fence and then being able to detect very low numbers of rats or possums that are arriving into that landscape."

ZIP has ambitions to make New Zealand pest free, using less labour intensive conservation with the ability to remotely monitor the barrier. The "chew-node" is one innovation, where a peanut butter filled container is chewed on by rats, causing the antennae to wobble, and sending a signal back to ZIP that a rat is in the area.

"Once we've got that information how do we treat it - well we might fly a drone there, treat the area and then fly back again," Bramley said. "The next step might be can we put an aerial sensor that maybe can fly that landscape and tell us if anything has arrived, or can we sample water of the streams where they hit the coast and look at what the DNA is and see there is a rat in that catchment."

The scalability is what appealed to the Next foundation when it looked at funding ZIP, chairman Chris Liddell said. The foundation, set up by benefactors Annette & Neal Plowman, plans to spend $100 million over the next 10 years on environmental and educational programmes.

"ZIP will generate the intellectual property, but then we will make it free for anyone in New Zealand," Liddell said. "Going beyond New Zealand we could generate some funds from it, if it is valuable enough, and then reinvest that money in New Zealand. But the idea is not to make any money out of the solution, anything that we do we will reinvest in further research and development."

(BusinessDesk)

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