Monday, 23 March 2020 11:30

Post-quake study reveals hort potential

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Plant & Food Research Science Group Leader Dr Brent Clothier on the Ngai Tahu Farming trial orchard at Balmoral, near Culverden. Photo: Supplied. Plant & Food Research Science Group Leader Dr Brent Clothier on the Ngai Tahu Farming trial orchard at Balmoral, near Culverden. Photo: Supplied.

Large areas of North Canterbury and South Marlborough – affected by the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquakes – offer wide potential for horticulture.

A Plant and Food Research investigation has found that several crops – in particular, apples, grapes, hazelnuts and walnuts – could be grown in pockets throughout the region.

It identified 41,515 ha of land – or about 9% of the total 466,000ha – that would potentially be suitable. 

The study was commissioned by the Post Quake Farming (PQF) project, an MPI-funded programme to support the recovery of farming businesses and future land use decisions in the area affected by the quakes. 

The study’s co-author, Dr Brent Clothier, of Plant and Food Research, Palmerston North, said it began with a series of community engagement meetings where a list of crops suitable for investigation was agreed upon. These included apples, kiwifruit, wine grapes, blueberries, avocados, hazelnuts and walnuts. In response to community feedback, the scope has been further expanded to hops and hemp. 

While it found that apples, grapes and nuts would be suitable on the right land across the region, avocados and kiwifruit generally would not be suitable – while blueberries were only marginally suitable in certain areas. 

Clothier said the first part of the study was a “broad brush sweep” across the post-quake region, identifying areas that met four basic criteria:

Land Use Capability (LUC) class 1, 2, or 3. Under the LUC regime, New Zealand has been mapped into eight LUC classes, 1 being the best land and 8 the worst, due to limitations around water, erosion, root zone depth, drainage etc. “We feel that horticulture requires land that has few limitations, or limitations that can be easily mitigated,” said Clothier.

The land slope less than 15 degrees (initially 8 degrees but relaxed because there are existing successful vineyard developments in steeper land north of Waipara).

Growing Degree Days (GDD) greater than 800, because of the need for warmth over summer to get a horticultural crop through to maturity.

Frost-Free Period (FFP) of 180 days or more.

In the second stage, the researchers applied specific rules for the specific crops, matched against detailed climatic analysis using NIWA’s Virtual Climate Station Networks.

The study found that the area north of Kaikoura, for example, would be suitable for apples and nut crops. But because of cool summer days it would not be suitable for outdoor growing of blueberries and only “marginal” for blueberries under protective covers. The area was also only “moderately suitable” for wine grapes because of slightly too much Autumn rain.

Clothier said the first two stages of the study were a desktop exercise, with findings presented to farmers in the region in a series of meetings in September. 

It was now in a third stage of “ground-truthing” the study by visiting farms in the region to see what has been successfully grown over the years – ranging from small commercial growers to “where granny used to have apple trees behind the homestead and they still fruit beautifully.” 

Although there was not yet much commercial production in the region, there were instances where even avocados were growing.

Micro-climates are important

Specific areas have better conditions, which will be more suitable than others.

Understanding that could be very important to securing contracts for higher value/higher margin crops. This autumn, PQF intends to do extension with farmers to help them do climate surveys on their farms. 

Clothier said interest was building in horticulture, with a number of different drivers.

“We know what future water quality standards might do to the ability to have intensive dairying close to rivers - whereas that high-class land, that LUC 1, 2 or 3, is likely to be the river flats close to a river. 

“You could, without destroying the dairy farm or the sheep and beef farm, put a 5ha orchard there. Then lo and behold, up and down the valley you might have a collection of 5 10, 20 blocks of 10ha to 25ha each, that would form an industry.”

Clothier adds that horticulture had a lower environmental impact.

“If we look at carbon, there’s no methane in horticulture so there’s going to be no big issue with the future carbon price. 

“And the nitrous oxide emissions are very low because you don’t put nitrogen on horticulture crops – otherwise they just grow leaves, and you can’t sell those.”

More like this

Ag man bags top science role

Well-known Plant and Food Research soil and environment scientist Brent Clothier is the new president of the Royal Society, Te Aparangi.

Catch crops a valuable tool

Along with several other organisations, Beef+Lamb NZ helped fund the catch crops for reduced nitrate leaching project. Sown as soon as possible after grazing has finished, catch crops have been the subject of a Sustainable Farming Fund project led by Peter Carey from Lincoln Agritech, with support from Brendon Malcolm and Shane Maley from Plant and Food Research and AgResearch.

New kiwifruit breeding JV

Moves are well underway to establish a new Kiwifruit Breeding Centre (KBC) - a joint venture between Plant and Food Research (PFR) and Zespri - designed to speed up the process of developing new and improved kiwifruit varieties.

Desperate hort sector demands govt action

Horticultural exporters, growers, food companies and industry leaders are pleading for the Government to make a plan to allow Pacific Island seasonal workers to return later this year.

Gaining knowledge about likely Xylella fastidiosa vectors in New Zealand

Seven vineyards, in Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury, are taking part in a new biosecurity research project examining the presence of potential insect vectors of Xylella fastidiosa, the bacterium which causes Pierce’s disease of grapevines, in vineyards and the adjoining natural vegetation.

National

Guy standing for Ravensdown

Former Agriculture Minister and Horowhenua dairy farmer Nathan Guy is standing for election to the Ravensdown board of directors.

Nats new first woman of Ag

The National Party's new agriculture spokesperson says she'll be working from the grassroots up, rather than the top down, as…

Machinery & Products

Helps tame the wind!

Amazone's recently released WindControl System automatically monitors and adjusts the spreading pattern to compensate for the effect of the wind…

First Claas patent hits a century

While Claas has registered more than 3,000 patents during its 108-year history, the company is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary…

JD invests in robotics

Global giant Deere and Co has acquired Silicon Valley start-up company Bear Flag Robotics, which specialises in autonomous driving technologies…

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Too many hits?

OPINION: Well-known professional protestor, John Minto has run off at the mouth without checking his facts.

Good question!

A mate of the Hound's thinks it was more than a bit dodgy when DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter