Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer for CIAL on the left, with AgResearch scientist Chris Pennell on the right, standing on one of the plots of high-endophyte grass at Christchurch Airport.
A grass product developed at Christchurch Airport by Grasslanz
Technology and AgResearch has been given a DuPont Innovation
Award. The awards recognise the commercialisation of
outstanding science and technology in Australasia, and this was the
only award given to a New Zealand company.
The innovation award was for an endophyte-inoculated grass which
promises to make airfields much safer through deterring birds from
feeding on grass and insects at grassed areas at airports.
The grass has a fungus which makes birds feel sick when they feed
off it, although it does not harm them. The birds are then
deterred from feeding and flocking in those grassy areas. This
endophytic grass also reduces insect numbers, thereby making the
area less attractive to insect-feeding birds.
Plots of grass inoculated with the selected endophyte had 14
times less birds than ordinary plots of grass. This dramatically
lowered the population of birds in the vicinity of these plots, and
therefore the risk of birds flying into aircraft.
"This high-endophyte grass has major value for grassed airfields
throughout the world," said Andy Lester, Chief Operating Officer of
Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL). "We want to
congratulate Grasslanz, AgResearch and scientist Chris Pennell for
their dedicated work which will make a significant contribution to
airfield safety. Christchurch Airport has the objective of
having the lowest bird-strike statistics of any airport in New
Zealand, and this grass is a quantum leap in achieving that
CIAL has been involved in research on grass and other crops for
the last twenty five years to investigate bird responses to
different types of vegetation. After noting the reactions of
various birds to high-endophyte grasses, Chris Pennell approached
the airport company and since then the airport has worked in
partnership with AgResearch to trial the grasses. Each year several
plots were planted out with different grasses, using different
methodologies, such as variation on sowing rates and fertiliser
rates, to find the optimum variety and treatment to suit
Christchurch Airport soil types and climate. The plots were
monitored to observe the types and numbers of birds attracted to
The innovative high-endophyte grass product was nominated by
Grasslanz Technology for the award, and recognised the input from
AgResearch, Christchurch International Airport Ltd, the Foundation
for Arable Research and PGG Wrightson. Chris Pennell, the scientist
who invented it, received the award at the DuPont Innovation Awards
function in Australia last week.