Horticulture industry can celebrate strong export growth

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is welcoming a new report showing a 40 per cent growth in horticulture export earnings since 2014.

The strong results are highlighted in Horticulture New Zealand and the New Zealand Horticulture Export Authority’s report New Zealand Horticulture – Barriers to Our Export Trade which is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and NZ Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust.

“Horticulture is a star performer of the New Zealand economy with export revenue just under $5 billion, making it one of our most important industries,” says Mr Guy.

“The report highlights that tariffs on exported produce have come down by 22 percent since 2012, which is good news but there is still more to be done. Reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers are a big priority for the Government.

“Horticulture has a goal of being a $10 billion industry by 2020 and they are well on the way. They are now New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry and employ 60,000 people in New Zealand.

“It’s very fitting for this report to be released on the day when Horticulture New Zealand is celebrating 100 years of representing growers, starting as the New Zealand Fruitgrowers Federation in 1916.

This week the Government hopes the Horticulture Export Authority Amendment Bill will pass it’s final reading in Parliament, providing a framework for producers and exporters to collaborate in export marketing their products.”

The Executive Summary of the report is available on the Horticulture Export Authority website.

Science and innovation performance report – so how are we doing?

A snapshot of New Zealand’s science and innovation system has laid out where we are doing well and where there is room for improvement compared to other small advanced economies.

The Science and Innovation System Performance Report, just published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is intended to benchmark performance of the sector over time.

The Science Media Centre has identified these key findings: 

The research sector is relatively small, but efficient when it comes to scientific publications produced per research dollar.

R&D expenditure has grown 77% since 2000, but progress towards the Government’s goal of business R&D surpassing 1 per cent of GDP is “slow but steady” (estimated at .60% in 2015).

– New Zealand produces relatively fewer graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) than other Small Advanced Economies but numbers are growing.

– We have strong expertise in niche areas like astronomy, energy and physics, but do relatively little research in these areas.

The Science Media Centre asked innovation experts for their reaction to the report.

One response has been posted so far on its website –

Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland and Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini comments:

“MBIE have produced their first science and innovation system performance report since MoRST and then MSI were folded into Steven Joyce’s super-ministry. We had a taste of MBIE’s new approach with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI) that was published last year and made extensive use of bibliometric data to try to benchmark our science and innovation system.

“This new report updates some of the statistics we saw in the NSSI, but for the most part takes a new approach to presenting the data that MBIE are able to access. We can expect the quality of this data to improve as the Science and Innovation domain plan is rolled out over the next few years, but for the time-being we must make do with what we have and this should engender some scepticism in what is presented.

“Nonetheless, the data we do have paints the picture of a science and innovation system that performs well on a per dollar basis, but one that could do with further investment. Relative to the small advanced economies, our recent performance has remained decidedly mixed across a range of measures.

“While MBIE awards itself a pass mark on its goal of lifting business R&D to 1% of GDP by 2018, for instance, the data in the report provide little assurance that this is on track. Despite all the attention that business R&D has received in the last few years, it remains anaemic. This is very disappointing as it limits the long term growth of our economy.

“One statistic I track with interest is the number of post-doctoral fellowships available for early career researchers. This took a significant hit a few years ago when this government cut our national post-doctoral fellowship scheme. The numbers in this report suggest that the rest of the science and innovation system has not filled the gap left by this scheme, but at the same time this deserves further scrutiny.

“As Nicola Gaston, past-President of the NZAS, pointed out on Twitter (@nicgaston), it doesn’t seem credible that GNS Science had no post-doctoral fellows employed in 2015 as the report seems to suggest. I look forward to seeing improved reporting of this and other statistics in coming additions.”

The full report and a snapshot of the key benchmarked metrics is available here.

A press release from Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce is available here.

Up to $25.9m expected to be invested in revised research partnership programme

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced a refreshed version of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) research partnership programme will open for applications in December with funding awarded in late-2017.

After completing a full review of the programme, he said, the Government expects to invest up to $25.9 million over seven years in the first round of a revised Partnerships Scheme.

The refreshed scheme has moved from the previous on-demand mechanism to a more structured annual, but still very open, call for proposals, he says.

MBIE has published an Investment Plan and Gazette Notice for the refreshed Partnerships Scheme, setting out the details about how and where investments will be made in future.

“We intend to diversify the mix of sectors participating in the scheme. This will include encouraging partnerships from firms or sectors that have not received funding to date to consider applying to this scheme,” Mr Joyce says.

The Partnerships Scheme provides a means of stimulating collaborative sector-led research in areas of longer term potential for the New Zealand economy. It requires a minimum of two separate partners alongside government.

“This scheme plays an important role among other government investment mechanisms for encouraging the growth of business R&D. These include the Primary Growth Partnership, which focuses on improvements to the end-to-end value chain associated with primary industries, and Callaghan Innovation R&D grants, which provide direct support for individual firms’ R&D,” says Mr Joyce.

The National Statement of Science Investment, released by MBIE in late 2015, sets out the government’s role as a research investor and its expectations for excellence and impact in research that receives public funding.

Any one partnership programme is eligible for a maximum of 14 years co-funding (over two contract terms). The cash contribution rate from sector partners has also been increased to 60 per cent in the first cycle and 70 per cent in the second cycle to reflect the level of private benefit from the scheme.

The revised partnership scheme will have an increased focus on “excellent research” and a stronger emphasis on delivering high impact benefits to the New Zealand economy through longer term, innovative science, Mr Joyce says.

More detailed information can be found at http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/science-innovation/research-partne…

New KiwiNet CEO appointed to lead the transformation of science

Dr James Hutchinson has been appointed chief executive of the Kiwi Innovation Network Ltd (KiwiNet), New Zealand’s national network of universities and Crown Research Institutes working together to take great science discoveries to market. He succeeds KiwiNet’s founding General Manager, Dr Bram Smith, who is moving to a private sector job.

KiwiNet’s 16 partnering organisations collaborate to increase the scale and impact of science-based innovation. Collectively, the consortium represents over 70% of New Zealand’s publicly funded scientists.

Dr Hutchinson, previously Commericalisation Manager at KiwiNet, is described as passionate about the important role that science and the scientific community have to play in growing our economy into new high-tech and knowledge-based sectors.

Dr Hutchinson says it is an exciting time to be leading KiwiNet.

“New Zealand’s high-tech capability is growing and we must be bold if we are to power this up into a globally-competitive technology sector that is driving economic growth and creating benefit for all New Zealanders. Commercialisation of our cutting-edge science and entrepreneurship holds the key, and I’m looking forward to working with all stakeholders across the system to achieve this ambition.”

Dr Hutchinson has experience in supporting research and innovation in the UK and internationally with a particular focus on the life sciences and global societal challenges.

He led a team of programme specialists to develop and implement a platform of science policy, advocacy, networking, conferences, workshops and other initiatives, working in close partnership with the international chemical science community. He is an experienced project leader who has a strong track record of working with government, industry and academia at senior levels.

Dr Hutchinson is a Junior Policy Fellow of the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge, UK, having authored over 20 pieces of science policy covering strategic reports, government consultation responses and position statements. He led a successful campaign to the UK Government in 2013, on behalf of the broader chemical science community, to protect public investment in science, and has participated in several advisory groups and expert panels to government bodies and NGOs.

KiwiNet’s PreSeed investment partners have invested over $26.7 million into more than 500 projects since 2003. To date PreSeed investment (provided by the Ministry of Innnovation Business and Employment) has led to over 153 commercial deals attracting over $114 million of business investment and 27 new start-up companies. Collectively, KiwiNet’s investments into research commericalisation are generating a greater than five-fold return on investment to New Zealand and this is growing.

Dr Hutchinson is eager to build on this momentum, identifying several critical interventions that will underpin future success.

KiwiNet partner organisations include WaikatoLink, Plant & Food Research, Otago Innovation Ltd, Lincoln University, AUT Enterprises, AgResearch, University of Canterbury, Callaghan Innovation, Viclink, Landcare Research, Cawthron Institute, ESR, NIWA, Scion, GNS Science and Malaghan Institute. Principal support is also provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

Plant & Food’s Bruce Campbell is honoured by the Royal Society of NZ

Dr Bruce Campbell, Chief Operating Officer of Plant & Food Research, has been awarded the prestigious Thomson Medal for 2016.

The Thomson Medal, which recognises outstanding contributions to science and technology,  was presented to Dr Campbell for his outstanding leadership in both the agricultural and horticultural sciences over 35 years.

The medal selection committee noted:

“His leadership has had a positive impact on the New Zealand economy, including innovations in forages, wine, kiwifruit and avocado sectors, and he has fostered new science talent and linked science closely with business and the wider community.” They particularly noted his scientific leadership during the response to the kiwifruit bacterial disease Psa when it was discovered in New Zealand in 2010, which saw more than 100 Plant & Food Research scientists mobilised to support Zespri and the kiwifruit industry in understanding and managing the devastating disease.”

As Chief Operating Officer of Plant & Food Research, Dr Campbell leads a team of more than 600 scientists across New Zealand, delivering research and innovation to support the sustainable growth of the plant and marine-based food sectors. H

He acts as Director for several industry organisations and science partnerships, including Forage Innovations Limited, the Bio-Protection Research Centre of Excellence and the Horticulture New Zealand Vegetable Research & Innovation Board. He was made a Fellow of the NZ Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science in 2014.

Dr Campbell is a strong advocate for encouraging young people to build careers in the horticultural and wider food industries. He championed the development of the Plant & Food Research Summer Studentship Programme – which to date has seen more than 250 young scientists spend three months undertaking a research project at the Institute to gain insights into real life science and business activities – and the creation of scholarships that support young Māori and Pacific Island students in furthering their science education and careers.

He was  instrumental in establishing the Joint Graduate School in Plant and Food Science with the University of Auckland, the first collaboration of its kind in New Zealand, and the Joint Graduate School of Horticulture and Food Enterprise with Massey University.

Plant & Food scientists report a breakthrough for the bees

Preliminary results from a pilot study undertaken by scientists at Plant & Food Research indicate that a breakthrough has been made in the fight against the pathogen Nosema ceranae, a deadly disease for bees.

This relative newcomer to New Zealand is a cousin of Nosema apis, which has been present in the country since the 1800s.

Both N. apis and N. ceranae are spore-producing parasites that attack the gut lining of bees, leading to a shortened lifespan in adults. Severe cases of N.ceranae may cause the collapse of an entire colony.

Because Nosema is primarily spread through faeces on contaminated honeycomb, preventing infection is a near-impossible task, meaning the commercial costs associated with Nosema infection have simply been “a fact of life”.

During the springs of 2014 and 2015 many New Zealand beekeepers, particularly in the Coromandel, experienced severe and unexplained colony losses. This pattern had not been experienced before and resulted in honey loss estimated at between 40-60% for the season.

N. ceranae had first been found in New Zealand in 2010 and was identified as a potential culprit for the calamity.

In response, a team from Plant & Food Research began working closely with Coromandel beekeeper Dr Oksana Borowik – first confirming high levels of N. ceranae in affected colonies, and then exploring ways to prevent the spread of the disease between hives.

Their early research findings have been announced in a press release from Pland & Food: heat-treating the hive and internal comb to only 50C for 90 minutes resulted in an increase in brood viability and a 50% increase in adult bee numbers.

The treatment is effective because heat kills N. ceranae spores lurking on contaminated comb before the new colony is introduced to the hive.

“Nosema ceranae has had a notable impact on hives and the honey industry in countries like the United States and China,” says Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Mark Goodwin.

“We need to take the threat of this disease very seriously, particularly as the honey industry and the pollination services of honey bees are very important to New Zealand’s economy.

“The initial findings of this research are a very encouraging first step in the fight against this threat.”

The team will build on this initial study with further investigations into the effect of seasonality and long-term treatment on bee populations.

If heat treatment is found to be a safe and consistent management option for beekeepers plagued by Nosema, there is the potential to greatly improve the health and productivity of New Zealand beehives.

Farmer’s role in the near-eradication of methane from cow emissions

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has picked up on the research finding in Australia that particular seaweed reduces methane to nearly zero in cow emissions..

The story was reported by the ABC last month:

New research carried out in north Queensland could drastically reduce the impact the agricultural industry has on the global environment.

Professor of aquaculture at James Cook University in Townsville, Rocky De Nys, has been working with the CSIRO studying the effects seaweed can have on cow’s methane production.

They discovered adding a small amount of dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can reduce the amount of methane a cow produces by up to 99 per cent.

Professor De Nys said methane gas was the biggest component of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture industry, and the findings could help alleviate climate change.

He further said the vast majority of methane comes from the cow’s burp rather than the gas from the other end of the cow.

The CBC report reiterates that the Queensland research could drastically reduce the agricultural sector’s impact on the global environment.

It explains the role of a farmer in the research.

Joe Dorgan began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago as a way to cut costs on his farm in Seacow Pond. He was so impressed with the improvements he saw in his herd, he decided to turn the seaweed into a product.

“There’s a mixture of Irish moss, rockweed and kelp, and just going to waste,” he said. “And I knew it was good because years ago, our ancestors, that’s what they done their business with.”

Then researcher Rob Kinley caught wind of it.

These lasers are used to measure the amount of methane released in the field. (CSIRO Agriculture)

The agricultural scientist, then at Dalhousie University, helped test Dorgan’s seaweed mix, and discovered it reduced the methane in the cows’ burps and farts by about 20 per cent.

Kinley knew he was on to something, so he did further testing with 30 to 40 other seaweeds. That led him to a red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis he says reduces methane in cows burps and farts to almost nothing.

“Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it’s not a small number,” said Kinley, an agricultural research scientist now working at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Queensland, Australia.

“We’re talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars.”

Kinley thinks it could take anywhere from three to five years to get a commercial animal feed to market. He says the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed.

“Agriculture stands to be one of the first to make major changes in the greenhouse gas inventory and so it’s really a game changer if we can get this out into the market.”

“I was testing one day a series of samples when all of a sudden it looked like my instruments were having problems, and I wasn’t able to see emissions from one particular sample,” he said. “So I did it over and over again and lo and behold the methane emissions were eliminated.

“That’s when the light went on.”

Let’s see if the discovery becomes a “game changer” when it comes to global warming.