New Zealand’s apple industry aims to be ‘spray-free’ by 2050

The New Zealand apple industry is striving to become spray-free by 2050, a move it hopes will allow it to retain high-value export markets.

The apple industry received $15 million in funding to achieve this goal.

Rachel Kilmister, research and development program manager at NZ Apple and Pears, said the group had received government support for a seven-year research program to establish sustainable production practices.

The program would aim to reduce the use of agrochemicals by using targeted and smart technologies, such as remote sensing, to detect pests. He would also use new varieties of apples that are more resistant to pests and diseases. The industry also aimed to reduce its carbon footprint.

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Using new, pest-resistant apple varieties from research company Prevar would be key to achieving spray-free status, Kilmister said.

Apples of the Prevar variety have been bred by traditional methods by selecting from existing pest and disease resistant genetic material. The apples were not genetically modified, she said.

“To help speed up breeding, research is being conducted to understand which apple and pear genes provide resistance to pests and diseases of concern. Germplasm is screened for these genes. New varieties are screened in the field for many years for hardiness, performance and resistance to pests and diseases before being selected for marketing,” Kilmister said.

If the industry has achieved its goals without spraying, it has a commercial advantage in export markets.

Martin De Ruyter / Stuff

If the industry has achieved its goals without spraying, it has a commercial advantage in export markets.

Alternatives to spraying included the use of decoys containing insect pheromones that disrupted mating, decoys using pheromones to attract and kill pests, the release of sterile insect pests to break the pest cycle, and the cultural control that altered the natural environment of the pest or disease, Kilmister said.

Steps to becoming spray-free would be gradual, beginning with a reduction in the amount and frequency of chemicals applied.

This could be done using technology for more precise spray application. Variable rate spray technology was an option. Early detection technologies for pests and diseases would allow early intervention before it becomes a problem, Kilmister said.

Another option to reduce spraying was manual and automated removal by cutting or spot spraying of an infestation, she said.

Rachel Kilmister, research and development program manager at New Zealand Apples and Pears, said moving away from sputtering the industry will bring incremental change.

Provided

Rachel Kilmister, research and development program manager at New Zealand Apples and Pears, said moving away from sputtering the industry will bring incremental change.

Reducing fuel consumption by reducing the number of hours sprayed by tractors would be the main way to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry.

The program aimed to reduce pesticide application by 50% by 2030. Achieving spray-free status by 2050 would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry by 35%.

Earlier, group chief executive Terry Meikle estimated the program would protect $1.1 billion in projected revenue between 2023 and 2030, protecting existing high-value market share.

The $14.9 million project was the industry’s largest to date. The Ministry of Primary Industries and the Sustainable Food and Fiber Futures Fund funded $7.4 million. The rest was funded by industry, he said.

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