Monday, 09 November 2020 09:38

Hort systems must meet expections of the future

Written by  Peter Burke
Paul Johnstone says the ultimate vision of this research is to deliver future food systems that provide healthy and exciting food options. Paul Johnstone says the ultimate vision of this research is to deliver future food systems that provide healthy and exciting food options.

Plant & Food Research has just begun a major research programme focusing on designing horticultural growing systems to meet the expectations of society in the future.

Peter Burke reports.

Paul Johnstone is co-leading this programme of research, which is internally-funded through a significant new ‘Growing Futures’ initiative at Plant & Food Research.

He says the ultimate vision of this research is to deliver future food systems that provide healthy and exciting food options.

“All backed by stories of unique provenance that attract premiums for producers – while restoring and regenerating our unique biocultural ecosystems here in NZ.”

Johnstone told Hort News that the research will look out 10-20 years and consider what food systems will need to look like to meet the needs of future consumers, both overseas and here in New Zealand. In the future, he sees an ongoing movement from producing food “within environmental limits”, beyond food systems that “do no harm”, through to transformative systems that “restore and regenerate”.

“Can we imagine food systems that purify water, are carbon positive, agrichemical free, provide greater resilience through biodiversity, generate zero waste, support better health and wellbeing, enhance amenity and underpin shared prosperity?” Johnstone asks.

“And can these be achieved in ways that grow value for our producers, communities and consumers alike? What are the trade-offs that we must consider?” 

He says the research has four central themes including: regenerative production ecosystems, future supply chains, provenance and digital twins. Digital twins are well established in the tech industry but are a relatively new approach in the agricultural sciences. 

These will allow the team to better understand and represent virtually through models the complexity of biological systems and consider how food systems perform as different changes are made. 

“The beauty about virtual systems is that it allows us to poke and prod and ask a series of ‘what if’ questions,” he told Hort News

“For example, would mixing different perennial and annual species alongside indigenous species improve resilience to pest and disease or ecosystem functions?  How might production systems be impacted by climate change? How can producers adapt? Or can we predict how supply chains might respond to less refrigeration?” 

Johnstone says the industry is already making significant changes in response to shifting regulatory policy and market expectations. Particularly topical areas have included agrichemical use, nutrient and water efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, food waste and plastics. 

However, he anticipates much more will be expected of producers in the future.

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