DuPont Innovation Award for Christchurch Airport grass

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.

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 goal."

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 it.

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.

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