Dung-eating beetles to help keep farms healthy

Beetle colonies which feed on dung could soon be delivering environmental and economic benefits to the rural sector.

The aptly named dung beetle is hailed as a natural answer to rebalancing the environmental impact of livestock. 

They tunnel through soil and bury livestock dung, which aerates soil, improves the nutrient cycle and helps manage water absorption and dispersion.

Researchers hope to learn more about them soon, with on-farm trials about to get under in the greater Wellington region.

Four species of dung beetle are being offered to famers in packages designed to encourage the trials.

The region-wide release is the first in New Zealand and is part of an initiative by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Dung Beetle Innovations.

It's hoped the release of the beetles will lead to cleaner pasture and the environmental and economic benefits that entails.

The presence of dung beetles sees improved water quality, more available grazing pasture, decreased maintenance time, improved soil health, and parasite and pest reduction.  

Dung beetle use is approved by the Government and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The release of the packages (based on the size of farms) will take place on Sunday, November 11 at a sold out function at Featherston's Kaiwaiwai Dairies, which is part of the national Fonterra Open Gates 2018 programme. 

"Managing nutrient build-up and run-off is a key priority, and the dung beetle option is one we are happy to support," said Greater Wellington Environment Committee chair Sue Kedgley. 

"It's encouraging to see the strong interest of local farmers in the scheme - particularly in south Wairarapa, where we are focusing on improving water quality in and around Lake Wairarapa."

Researchers say under ideal conditions, farmers can expect that:

- Within one to three years, the species will become established;

- Within four to six years, there will be noticeable environmental and economic benefits, with established beetles beginning to freely breed;

- Within nine to 11 years, the colony will be at full capacity and functioning optimally.