Posted in Caring for air, land & water, Soil biology

Dung beetle Q & A

The following Q&A was published on the old B+LNZ in October 2013. The website has been recently been replaced so I thought it useful to republish the Q&A here as a number of blogs are linked to it. This Q&A was prepared by Brigid Feely (To Be Frank Copywriters).

Dung beetles: Some common questions

Dung beetles are the agricultural curiosity story of the moment, following the release late last month of 400 beetles onto an organic dairy farm near Gore (26 September) and a second release in the Wairarapa earlier this month (8 October). Below is a quick Q&A, answering some of the questions around how these insects work and the benefits they offer.

You will find everything you want to know about dung beetles – including research papers and video links – on the Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group’s (DBRSG) website.

Q  How exactly do dung beetles work? 

A  They search out the dung of animals and use it for food and reproduction. The species being introduced to New Zealand utilise only the dung of grazing livestock animals. They are “tunnellers”, making tunnels in the soil beneath fresh dung pats, which they then bury to lay eggs in. As the eggs hatch, the grubs feed on the dung, before turning into new adults and emerge from the soil to repeat the cycle. When a healthy population of beetles is established, they can process a fresh dung pat in 48 hours.

Q  Why have 11 species been imported?

 A  Dung is produced night and day and the climatic conditions across New Zealand vary considerably. Some species of dung beetle are active at night while others are daytime workers. Additionally, some species are active during winter and others in spring, summer and autumn. So, the idea is that there are one or two species present in any given area, working 24 hours a day, throughout the year.

Q  Does New Zealand have any species of dung beetle already? 

A  Three exotic dung beetle species already live in New Zealand, mainly in the North Island. These species have a long history in New Zealand – two of them have been in the country since about 1880. They are not considered a health risk and are not a threat to New Zealand’s environment, given they are restricted to dung in livestock pastures. The existing species are beneficial in terms of burying dung, however, they are not abundant enough, too small in size, or not active during enough of the year to make a noticeable impact. There are also native dung beetles, though these are all flightless and live mainly in native bush and forest habitats, seldom venturing into livestock pasture. Equally, the imported dung beetles will not venture into native forest – as there is no livestock dung to feed on – so there is no risk they will displace the native population.

Q  Where have the beetles been imported from? 

A  Most of the 11 imported species are coming from Australia, where they were previously imported from southern Europe and South Africa – countries with climatic conditions similar to New Zealand.

Q  Have the beetles been successfully introduced to any other agricultural countries? 

A  Australia has introduced more than 50 types of dung beetle during the past 50 years, with great success (although not all 50 species have established). Australian farmers are aware of the benefits provided by dung beetles to their farms, and are increasingly moving to drench types which do not impact negatively on the beetles in an effort to enhance the populations for maximum impact. Watch a short video clip, where Landcare Research Scientist Shaun Forgie visits Australia and talks to dung beetle experts about the beetles’ successful introduction.

Q  What has happened so far? 

A  The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA, formerly known as the Environmental Risk Management Authority) approved the importation and release of the beetles in February 2011. Six species of beetles have been imported into containment at Landcare Research, where they have undergone a comprehensive disease screening process. Four species have since been released from containment for mass rearing and some caged field trials have also been undertaken. On 26 September, two species (Onthophagus taurus and Onthophagus binodis) were released on the Gore property, then two weeks later there was another release in the Wairarapa.

Q  What will happen next? 

Alongside ongoing monitoring of the release sites, mass rearing of dung beetles is currently underway. The DBRSG is in the initial stages of setting up a web-based system, so farmers will be able to click on their geographic location and find out which beetles are suitable and available. It is not yet clear how releases of dung beetles will be offered and made available to the wider farmer community, but you can be added to a DBRSG waiting list to be kept abreast of progress.

Q  How long until dung beetles establish themselves in New Zealand? 

Once healthy population numbers have been achieved on the farms they are released on, beetles will likely spread at a rate of about one kilometre per year. It is anticipated it will take many years for dung beetles to become established and abundant across all of New Zealand. The DBRSG website includes details on how to prepare for and enhance dung beetle populations on your property.

Q  What are the risks? What are the benefits? 

A  The following is a summary of the benefits and risks to New Zealand sheep and beef farmers.

The benefits :

  • Improved soil health and reduced runoff
  • Increased pasture productivity
  • Reduced infection of livestock by parasitic worms
  • Reduced pasture pests and human disease
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Economic benefits, through reduced forage fouling and improved sustainable recycling of nutrients present in dung

The risks, the EPA assessed three potential environmental risks:

  • Tunnelling of the beetles would lead to contamination of groundwater
  • The introduced beetles could displace native beetles
  • The beetle could become a vector for both livestock and human diseases and parasites.

EPA found all risks to be negligible, as supported by extensive internal and external reviews and testing

[Sources: Dung Beetle Release Strategy Group (DBRSG); Shaun Forgie, Scientist with Landcare Research; and Environmental Protection Authority.]

To join the dung beetle release waiting list or for more information on dung beetles, including research papers and videos, see the dung beetle release strategy group website

Posted in Caring for air, land & water, Soil biology

It’s about looking after your soil

[from Country Life RNZ]
Farming is applied ecology. It’s about working with nature to get the production and environmental outcomes you want. One approach to applied ecology is biological farming which has a focus on nurturing and growing your soil.

RNZ’s Country Life broadcasted an interview with owner Russel Rudd and manager Rex Mitchell of Mairaki Downs farm at Fernside in Canterbury and consultants Rob Flynn and Fraser Matthews from Soil Matters about their use of biological farming principles. While I’m not advocating the use of any single philosophy I do believe there is a lot to be learnt from alternative approaches where they are based in evidential science.

Fraser was asked how he would describe a biological farming system:

“In my sense, I’m talking about biological purely in your soil. So using active microorganisms, insects, worms, nematodes and microscopic animals to increase nutrient availability and decompose dead matter and living organisms that have died. So, a lot of it would be turning your soil onto an active ecosystem that would be doing, what say, an ecosystem in a forest would be doing that didn’t have pressure from grazing animals and things like that. It would become a system that is more natural.”

You can read the background of the interview at RNZ’s Country Life or listen to the interview.

Read more about soil improvement research, funded by B+LNZ funded, on earthworms and dung beetles.


Posted in Caring for air, land & water, Caring for animals

Plumbing the hills

The Minister for Primary Industries, Hon Nathan Guy, spoke at the Beef + lamb New Zealand Environment Conference in February. During his speech he released a report on the economic evaluation of reticulated drinking water for stock. Read the Ministers press release.

Ministry for Primary Industries, Hon Nathan Guy addresses the B+LNZ Environment Conference [photo Geoff Ridley]

The evaluation of reticulation was funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, MPI, MBIE and Te Puni Kōkiri. All up it involved 11 case study farms around the country.

All the farmers who took part thought their investment was a good decision. They found they were better able to cope with drought as the availability of drinking water gave them more flexibility to effectively use all their available pasture. This, in turn, resulted in improved stock numbers and stock performance.

Reticulation has the environmental benefit of reducing pressure on waterways by providing stock with another source of drinking water. The availability of drinking water meant that waterways, wetlands and dams could be fenced off. It also meant farmers could plant riparian strips and protect regenerating bush.

[photo AgFirst]

Being able to fence dams has the animal welfare benefit of preventing stock either getting stuck in dams during dry periods or drowning.

Overall the benefits were:

  • an increase in stock units per hectare
  • an increased animal productivity
  • better grazing management
  • greater pasture production
  • better environmental outcomes
  • greater ability to implement farm environment plans
  • increased drought resistance

And the financial analysis showed:

  • an average rate of return of 45% over 20 years
  • an average payback period of 3 years

If you want to read more see the links below.

Phil Journeaux and Erica van Reenan, 2016. Economic evaluation of stock water reticulation on hill country. A report for the Ministry for Primary Industries and Beef + lamb New Zealand.

Economics of stock water on hill country. Information leaflet.

New report shows benefits of investing in stock water systems. Press Release.


Posted in Conferences

Let’s go to Caroline Bay again

Timaru turned on a couple of sunny days for us back in November for the New Zealand Grassland Association’s 78th annual conference. It was held at the arts & craft styled Carolyn Bay Hall and it felt straight out of the 1920s.


Last day of the Conference at Caroline Bay Hall, Timaru [Photo Geoff Ridley]

Now that Christmas and the New Year are over its time to go back and dig through your copy of the Journal of NZ Grasslands. Did you notice that of the 28 research papers presented 14 were cofunded from the sheep and beef levy. And of these ten came from the Pastoral 21 research programme (marked with an *). These papers are listed below and linked to online copies.

Research papers

* Moot DJ, Bennett SM, Mills AM, Smith MC. Optimal grazing management to achieve high yields and utilisation of dryland lucerne. 

* Moot DJ, Mills AM, Roux MM, Smith MC. Liveweight production of ewes and lambs grazing a dryland lucerne monoculture with or without barley grain supplementation. 

Amongst the plantain at Riverholme Pastures, Pleasant Point [Geoff Ridley]

Fields RL, Barrell GK, Moot DJ. Premature mammary development in ewe lambs exposed to an oestrogenic lucerne pasture. 

* Roach CG, Glassey CB, MacDonald KA. Key pasture and milksolids production indicators from two Waikato farmlets differing in inputs, stocking rate, pasture allowance and nitrate leaching. 

* Rendel JM, Mackay AD, Smale PN, Vogeler I. Moving from exploring on-farm opportunities with a single to a multi-year focus: Implications for decision making. 

Schon NL, Gray RA, Mackay AD. Earthworms stimulate pasture production in sheep and beef systems: their economic value.

* Smith LC, McDowell RW, Cosgrove GP.A comparison of nutrient losses to waters following pasture renewal by cultivation or direct-drilling.

* Morris NJ, Smith MC, Mills AM, McNeill MR, Moot DJ. Insect populations of six dryland pastures grown in Canterbury.

Lucerne for ever, Rock Farm [Photo Geoff Ridley]

Hardwick S, Ferguson CM, McCauley P, Nichol W, Kyte R, Barton DM, NcNeill MR, Philip BA, Phillips CB. Response to clover root weevil outbreaks in South Canterbury, Otago and Southland; the agricultural sector and government working together.

* Hendriks SJ, Donaghy DJ, Matthew C, Bretherton MR, Sneddon NW, Cosgrove GP, Christensen CL, Kaufononga S, Howes J, Osborne MA, Taylor PS, Hedley MJ. Dry matter yield, nutritive value and tiller density of tall fescue and perennial ryegrass swards under grazing.

* Judson HG, McKenzie S, Robinson S, Nicholls A, Moorhead AJE. Measurement techniques and yield estimates of fodder beet in Canterbury and Southland. 

* Mills AM, Smith MC, Moot DJ. Relationships between dry matter yield and height of rotationally grazed dryland lucerne.

Ferguson CM, Barton DM, Philip BA. Clover root weevil tolerance of clover cultivars.

* Hutchinson KJ, Scobie DR, Beautrais J, Mackay AD, Rennie GM, Moss RA, Dynes RA. A protocol for sampling pastures in hill country.

Derrick Moot on lucerne, Rock Farm [Photo Geoff Ridley]





Posted in Science policy

A web of intrigue

One of the government’s National Science Challenges is called “New Zealand’s Biological Heritage” or just Bioheritage. It is about biodiversity and biosecurity.

One of the things that Bioheritage is looking at is biosecurity network intervention. Hey, pay attention as I can feel you nodding off.

Stopping it before it starts

What it is about is trying to work out if weeds, pest and pathogens spread in any predictable way – like a spider web or in network fashion. If you can predict spread then there is a chance to prevent it.

Velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti) in a fodder beet crop [photo Beef +Lamb New Zealand]
Velvet leaf (Abutilon theophrasti) in a fodder beet crop [via Beef +Lamb New Zealand]

Beef + Lamb New Zealand went to a workshop a few weeks ago to look at how people accidentally help to spread them. The goal of the research is to describe the networks and model them. Then to armed with this knowledge to either contain or slow the spread of pests.

[from National Farming Review 2015]
[from National Farming Review 2015]

What we need to know

Some of the questions that will be investigated are:

  • Do different networks have specific characteristics help to spread pest and does understanding this help identify where interventions could be applied?
  • Is there any relationship between how a pest spreads through a network and the likelihood of establishment at a node?
  • When networks span across management boundaries, like regional government boundaries, is it possible to know a coordinated multi-stakeholder response is required?
  • How will the number and distribution of nodes change over time, and what are the consequences for spread of a pest?
  • How can an understanding of networks help focus surveillance efforts?

The research team will develop a work plan over the next year, using feedback from this workshop and other end-users. Beef + Lamb New Zealand is planning to stay involved with the project and assist it where possible.

Posted in Science policy

Expand your mind, change your world

It’s always interesting to ponder great tag-lines. A really great one goes beyond the organisation that employs it and can speak to the reader in a much broader way. The magazine New Stateman’s tag-line ‘expand your mind, change your world’ is about being open to new information.

One of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s priorities is to deliver knowledge that drives farm performance. And one of the ways we do it is through AgInnovation – a conference on the latest areas in science, information and technology innovation. Certainly an opportunity to expand your mind and hopefully change your world.

Tell me more about my research investment

Beef + Lamb New Zealand invests in R&D that strives to meets the needs of farmers and the sector. Some of this research was presented at AgInnovation in Palmerston North last month. All of the presentations are available on the Beef + Lamb New Zealand website but here are those that are part of our research investment.

Hyperspectral Imaging Technology and its Use in Agriculture, Professor Ian Yule, Massey University


The Seven Wonders of Plants that May Change Our Hill Country, Kioumars Ghamkhar, AgResearch

A variety of clover species and hybrid for use in the breeding programme [photo Geoff Ridley]
A variety of clover species and hybrid for use in the breeding programme [photo Geoff Ridley]

Management of Californian Thistle by Mowing and Biocontrol, Mike Cripps, AgResearch

[photo AgResearch]
[photo AgResearch]

Ewe Longevity and WastageDr Anne Ridler, Massey University

[photo Massey University]
[photo Massey University]

Why Body Condition Score? How Much Do I Feed to My Ewe to Get it to Gain a Unit of BCS?Dr Nicola Schreurs, Massey University

Nutrition of Hoggets in Pregnancy and Lactation to Maximise OutputsDr Rene Corner-Thomas, Massey University



Posted in Science policy

Deconstruct to reconstruct

Did you see the internet article about deconstructed coffee? Apparently a café in Melbourne is offering deconstructed coffee, that is, a beaker of coffee, one of milk and one of hot water so you can mix it to your own taste. We were talking about it in the tea room and I thought the whole point was to go to a café that constructed good coffees. Anne Nelson, our website manager, said that there must be a blog in this. And she was right.

Greater than the sum of its parts

Scientific research is about the deconstruction of a system to understanding how the component parts work. In farming we have lots of component research. We have lots of data and information. What we tend to lack is the knowledge of how to reconstruct the farm system using the new information. We also often don’t know whether good looking results from component research will scale up to whole farm systems and hold true.

[ from the New Zealand Listener, Gahan Wilson]
[ from the New Zealand Listener, Gahan Wilson]

Paralysis of adoption

There is also a huge amount of ‘component’ knowledge that has been and continues to be generated from research. The complexity of all the possible interactions of the components results in paralysis of adoption. Something that we try to overcome with our Beef + Lamb New Zealand farming advice and resources.

The perfect flat white

Over the last year we have been looking at the research that Beef + Lamb New Zealand have been supporting. There was a lot of discussion at the Hill Country Symposium held in Rotorua [April 2016]. And we have been talking to researchers about taking the information from component research and building it into farm systems research, and that is how we are reconstructing that coffee?

Perfectly constructed flat white [constructed by Mojo]
Perfectly constructed flat white [constructed by Mojo]

That is the aim. So watch this space.