Spray-free orchard project wins $7.4 million government grant

Hawke’s Bay apples. File Photo/RNZ – Tom Kitchin

RNZ

New Zealand Apples and Pears has launched a seven-year project to try to make the industry spray-free by 2050.

The seven-year, $14.77 million project received a $7.44 million grant from the government’s Sustainable Food and Fiber Futures Fund.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said phytosanitary standards for detectable pests and food safety standards for agrochemical residues were important requirements for New Zealand’s export markets.

“Fruit that does not meet these standards will not be allowed in these markets. In addition, Europe and Asia, which are New Zealand’s biggest markets for our apples and pears, have set new agrochemical reduction targets by 2030.

“As with all of our primary sector, we must stay ahead of the curve to achieve our ambitious growth targets.”

Rachel Kilmister, head of New Zealand’s apple and pear research and development program, said there were already spraying alternatives available, but they needed more research and testing.

“There are semiochemicals which are natural pheromone-based chemicals that can disrupt pest encounters with an orchard, so you can use them instead of spraying chemicals.

“Some other technologies are based on cultural control where you treat the soil and try to eliminate diseases and pests by treating the leaves that fall to the ground.

“There are also control barriers that you place on the ground to prevent pests from emerging – so there are options there already.”

Kilmister said new apple varieties created by Prevar were already being bred to resist pests and diseases and will be key to meeting the spray-free goal.

By 2030, the research program aimed to further reduce pesticide application by 50% using targeted, smart technology.

Achieving spray-free status by 2050 would also reduce industry greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.

O’Connor said horticulture export revenue is expected to reach $6.9 billion for the year to June 30, 2022.

“By further reducing pesticide use, this program aims to preserve export revenues of $1.1 billion between 2023 and 2030.”

– RNZ

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