In a somewhat ironic twist, the global Covid pandemic is helping to drive demand for New Zealand kiwifruit.
The aim is to create new growing methods and crop protection measures that reduce chemical use, and spur greater production. The collaboration is funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) through its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund, which will contribute $10.8m, with a further $16.2m coming from the horticulture, arable and wine industries over the programme’s seven-year life.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says the project is aimed at boosting sustainable horticulture production and New Zealand’s Covid-19 recovery efforts. New Zealand has “a great story to tell” because its growers are among the most efficient and sustainable in the world, he says.
“Our high-value overseas consumers want to know the story behind their food. They want greater assurances that the food and fibre they buy is produced in a sustainable way – and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.”
The project will see the horticulture, arable and wine industries work together in a way they never have before, he says. “This project will enable these sectors to achieve much more, and in much a shorter time, than if each worked alone. This is exactly the sort of collaboration I hope other sectors will embrace.”
Bragato Research Institute (BRI) Chief Executive MJ Loza says the programme is in line with the wine industry’s focus on operating more sustainably. “The pan-industry New Zealand Inc approach taken with this new project is important, given the national and global importance of reducing our environmental footprints.”
Until recently, Viticulturist James Dicey represented the BRI on the industry reference group, providing “connectivity” to the wine industry. He says the value of the programme is largely strength in numbers, because as a unified front the horticultural industries involved can work with agrichemical companies to promote the introduction of more modern chemistry, with a lighter environmental touch than the “old chemistry” currently available. James says it is a costly exercise for those companies to invest in rigorous trials in New Zealand, which is “so damned small”, but the collaboration could create a critical mass.
The various indusry groups will also liaise on integrated pest management perspectives, and how to deal with pests and diseases effectively. The apple industry, for example, has taken organophosphates “off the table” and are using much lighter chemicals because of a more sophisticated and integrated control programme, James says. The New Zealand Winegrowers board recently removed organophosphates from the spray schedule for SWNZ certified vineyards.