On Ergot in Rye Grass.
At the conclusion of the address, a vote of thanks was moved by Mr. W. T. L. Travers, seconded by Mr. J. C. Crawford, and carried, both these gentlemen, however, pointing out those portions of the address to which they took exception.
Dr. Hector introduced to the notice of the society a very important question as affecting the interests of sheep farmers and agriculturists throughout the colony, namely, the presence of Ergot in rye grass. The subject was one to which Dr. Hector had devoted some attention previously, but the presence of Ergot in rye grass pastures had so much increased during the past season that several persons residing in various parts of the colony had brought the subject again under his notice by correspondence, which was read to the meeting. From this correspondence it appeared that the Hon. Mr. Fox had devoted considerable attention to the subject, and his experience, together with that of the other communicants, went to show that the effect of the presence of Ergot was to give rise to a disease amongst breeding stock, which greatly reduced the increase. In one instance quoted, where a flock of ewes had been placed in a paddock where Ergot was afterwards found to be present the increase was only seventeen per cent. Cattle and horses were said to be affected by the Ergot in the same manner. Dr. Hector said the subject was one which required close investigation, as it was quite possible that the same unseasonable weather which favoured the growth of fungi might also produce the effects attributed to the presence of Ergot. It was undoubted, however, that some of the symptoms described in the correspondence were such as would be produced by ergotism. He had placed the specimens in Dr. Berggren's hands for examination, and it might be regarded as very fortunate that there was at that moment, during the discussion of so important a subject, such a high authority amongst them.
Dr. Berggren, being requested to assist the society in its investigations, proceeded to give a clear and interesting statement of the growth and development of the Ergot, which he described as a fungus that passed through three distinct stages of existence: first, attacking the flower of the plant affected by it; next, the seed, in which condition it developed the characteristic spur or horn by which it is distinguished from other diseased grain, such as rust and smut; after which it fell to the ground and developed different spores, from which sprang a ground fungus of a red colour shaped somewhat like a mushroom, the spores shed from this latter form being those which attack the flower of the grass. The specimens submitted to him were unmistakably the true Ergot, which he thought must have been introduced into the colony with grain. He said it was quite possible the mild winters of New Zealand might affect its mode of development, as it might not require to remain so long in its winter state as in the north of Europe.
Mr. Travers thought it important that some remedy should be sought for at the earliest possible moment.
Dr. Berggren explained that the most speedy manner of eradicating the Ergot seemed to be to prevent the grass from seeding by cutting it before the seed ripened and then burning it.
The Hon. Mr. Fox inquired whether it was possible that the pasture would be affected by having had Ergot on it at seeding time, to such an extent as to poison stock feeding upon it afterwards. This he considered as the most important point for the practical farmer to consider, as the stock could be kept off the grass while it was actually in ear.
Mr. C. O'Neill asked what effect frost, snow, and severe weather would have upon the Ergot.
Dr. Berggren replied that the seed of grain affected with fungus was usually steeped in sulphate of copper, but that process was efficacious only when the seed itself carried the germ; it would be of no use when the fungus spores first attacked the plant when flowering. He did not think pasture became affected so as to be poisonous after the flowering season was past. In reference to Mr. O'Neill's question, Dr. Berggren said that of course climate might affect the Ergot, but he was not aware whether in this country there were places where the rye grass flowered while frost and snow were on the ground.
Mr. C. C. Graham said that four years ago he remarked the presence of Ergot, or something like it, in the toitoi grass at Rangitikei during a cold, wet season like the present. The Ergot was evidently widely spread this year, as he had received specimens of it from a correspondent at Timaru, which were amongst those examined by Dr. Berggren.
The Hon. Mr. Fox felt satisfied that wet was not the cause of Ergot, as the specimens he sent to Dr. Hector were cut during one of the driest seasons known in his district.
The Hon. Mr. Randall Johnson expressed himself as greatly interested in the matter, as some of the symptoms described were of frequent occurrence amongst the stock at Poverty Bay, and he had never been able to obtain any satisfactory explanation as to the cause. What he had heard that evening was very suggestive. The disease, whatever might be its nature, was curable only by change of pasture. It affected horses in his district, though it was rarely fatal in such cases. In one fatal case an examination showed the spinal cord of the horse to be in a diseased state.
Dr. Hector expressed a hope that the subject would receive the attention of farmers and others who were directly interested, as they had the best opportunities for observation. It seemed clear that the subject was not well understood at present.
The President stated that there were yet thirteen papers on the list for that evening, but, as the important discussion just concluded had occupied so much time, they would, of course, have to be delayed. The number of papers on the list showed the growing interest in the proceedings of the society, and it would probably suggest itself to members that they should meet more frequently than usual.