On a bitterly cold mid-minter afternoon on Knobby Range Rd, a group of Roxburgh and Teviot Valley farmers pore over a map spread on the bonnet of a ute.

Target: The tussock impersonator that has the audacity to call itself one, nassella tussock.

Mission: To knock the bastard off.

It is a battle that has been going on for nearly 60 years in the district and Waitaki there are steep, rugged sunny slopes, dry spurs, knobs, stony riverbeds, stream banks and terraces. Central Otago is a perfect breeding ground for nassella’s wind-borne seeds to take hold and stealthily take over.

Blunt eradication …Nassella tussock must be grubbed out at the roots then left to die off.

But a group of dedicated grubbers, many of whom are now in a fourth-generation battle, are determined this will not be the case, even if they have to fight it on foot, with their bare hands and a fairly primitive tool.

In fact, that is the only way to control it, because it is difficult to spot unless you systematically walk the land and know what you are looking for.

“They’re a different colour to start off,” fourth-generation farmer and nassella grubber Jeremy Wales, said.

During July, the grubbers were his on land, just off McKenzies Beach Rd, in the Knobby Range.

“And they have a fine leaf on them, and they look a bit different, and they have a white base, that breaks into clumps, hard clumps, and they’re rough both ways, whereas any other tussock is usually smooth one way.”

The work is voluntary and they are proud of what they achieve.

A family affair … third generation grubber Angus McNeish (left) and
son Sam (10)attack a clump of Nassella on Mackenzies face overlooking the Clutha River near Roxburgh, farmed by Jeremy Wales
(far right).

Over the three field days in July, he said the group could expect to dig out hundreds of plants, which would be up on last year because Doug Gordon had not been out and about.

Mr Gordon, who died in June aged 88, had devoted 60 years to ridding farm properties of the South American import.

A fourth generation Nassella grubber Sam McNeish (10). PHOTO: MARY-JO TOHILL

There were various theories about how it got into New Zealand. Some speculated it was during the construction of the Roxburgh Dam in the 1950s and that it came in with the machinery, or that it could have come far earlier, during the latter part of the goldmining era, with the equipment.

It was also found at Galloway and had got so bad at Cardrona that a fulltime range was employed in 1977.

The council used to pay for the eradication, but now farmers are required to keep it under control, and in the case of Teviot Valley, with the help of the Ida MacDonald Charitable Trust, which helps keep a core group of farmers together and helping each other out.

It was job they have to keep chipping away at.

“A little bit now is better than a lot later. If we left it for a year, in another decade we would have nothing but nassella,” Mr Wales said.