NZ food and beverage sector adding value to volume

A new report on New Zealand’s food and beverage export sector shows the sector is successfully achieving growth by investing in added value products and moving up the value chain.

The 2015 edition of the Investor’s Guide to the New Zealand Food and Beverage Industry which shows increasing levels of investment in product diversification and branded high value consumer products.

A key focus of the report is on the 23 emerging high value categories, which now produce a total of $3 billion of exports per annum and have grown at 12 per cent a year over the past decade.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said New Zealand’s food and beverage sector was in the middle of an exciting period of growth.

 “Goods with annual export figures between $100-$200 million include chocolate, UHT milk, biscuits, avocadoes, soft drink and beef jerky, between $200-$300 million include pet food and honey, mussels $312 million, and $455 million in infant formula.

“The report also shows that recent investment by the sector has largely gone into further processing, retail products, and new high value categories.”

The report profiles the top 100 New Zealand food and beverage firms, which collectively generate $51 billion in revenue a year.

The Investor’s Guide to the New Zealand Food and Beverage Industry is part of the Food and Beverage Information Project and is available here.

Sound science point of difference for Waipara winemakers

More than two decades of soil science work in the Waipara area has been compacted into a document launched at a Vineyard Soils Day at Black Estate Vineyard.

Former Lincoln University soil scientist Dr Philip Tonkin, Associate Professor Peter Almond, current Head of the Soil and Physical Sciences Department, Trevor Webb from Landcare Research, and other scientists, have spent around two years drawing together available information on the geology and soils of the region gathered in the last 20 years, along with the records of former Soil Bureau surveys.

The result is a record which Dr Tonkin says all wine growing regions should aim for.

“I want this to be a blueprint for what should be achieved in other areas where viticulture is practised,” he told wine growers, wine industry representatives and Lincoln academics presenting their research findings at the seminar.

Black Estate winemaker Nicholas Brown said afterwards:

 “Judging by the feedback I have received from growers it is clear that there is a lot of interest in seeing the final report and then using that information to better understand our region and more clearly promote its character to our markets.”

The Waipara region is home to at least 70 vineyards growing on distinctive landforms and an impressive variety of soils, with the Omihi Valley having some of the most fertile in New Zealand according to Associate Professor Almond.

Speaking at the seminar, Associate Professor Roland Harrison, Director of Lincoln University’s Centre for Viticulture and Oenology, said the concept of “terroir” – the relationship between wine and the parent materials in which vines grow – is well-recognised by wine growers, wine makers and consumers. But it is tenuous and at times merely anecdotal. However soil attributes are relevant to heat, water storage and drainage, and in this way do influence wine qualities.

“We are better off thinking about what soil does, for example its influence on growth, than simply about the rocks from which the soils are derived.”

Associate Professor Harrison told local vineyard owners that getting to know their soils better is an integral part of promoting their vineyards and that the document is another step forward in marketing at cellar doors.

“Looking at the whole geology of an area is useful for understanding and telling the “story” of a vineyard. Celebrating differences and variety and diversity is crucial for marketing and the landscape here reflects these.”

Dr Tonkin added that while the document gives growers information, the process goes both ways and feedback from those using the information is required to confirm its content and get everyone “talking about things in a consistent manner.”


Weed killing weevil revealed at field day

An invasive weed may soon be controlled with the help of a British weevil and financial support from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund.

Field horsetail, a weedy fern, is spreading throughout wetter regions, competing with grasses, reducing the productive potential of land and impacting both grazing and cropping farmers.

Landcare Research, supported by the Rangitikei Horsetail Group, has been investigating potential biocontrol solutions to help control it and revealed last Friday a weevil (Grypus equiseti) has come out as the best candidate for the job.

“We are extremely pleased to hear they’ve found a weevil that, if approved, can help tackle the field horsetail issue affecting mainly the Rangitikei region. This will enable land to be returned to more productive use,” said MPI Acting Director Aquaculture, Growth and Innovation Alice Marfell-Jones.

“Around $300,000 was invested over three years from the Sustainable Farming Fund which has gone towards understanding the effects of the field horsetail and investigate potential biocontrol options.”

Landcare Research researcher Lindsay Smith talking about the findings at a field day held in Bulls this month.

“Throughout our testing, we found the weevil to be one of the most damaging biocontrol agents causing significant damage to field horsetail,” said Smith.

“The plant is attacked by both larvae and adult weevils, with the larvae burrowing down the weed’s stems and into its extensive root system.”

“Over the last three years we have been testing the weevil in our biocontainment facility at Lincoln to confirm it is ‘host specific’ to horsetail and so will only damage horsetail and won’t pose a threat to other flora here in New Zealand. We will now be submitting an application to the Environmental Protection Authority to seek permission to release the weevil from containment. If we are successful, the weevil will be able to be introduced in to New Zealand to start work on field horsetail.”

“We are very grateful for the funding we have received over the last 3 years to be able to carry out this research. We couldn’t have done it without it.”

The Ministry’s Sustainable Farming Fund invests in applied research and extension projects that tackle a shared problem or develop a new opportunity in the Primary Industries. Co-funders of the field horsetail research included Landcare Research, National Biocontrol Initiative, Rangitikei Horsetail Group, Horizons Regional Council, Rangitikei District Council, Rangitikei Aggregates and Wanganui District Council.


UC research could offer NZ potato growers an edge

New Zealand potato growers could gain a new marketing edge thanks to a line of potatoes developed by University of Canterbury researchers.

UC Biotechnologists Dr David Leung and Dr Seyedardalan (Ardi) Ashrafzadeh have developed potato plants that are potentially resistant to cadmium, a highly toxic metal found in soil which is harmful to crops and can contribute to health issues in humans.

Biotechnology lecturer Dr Leung says their potatoes have a trait that could solve this problem and enhance New Zealand’s best potato varieties.

“New Zealand growers are competing with growers from all over the world. Imagine the difference that adding a cadmium-resistant trait could have on the market for our potatoes. It could certainly give our crops a marketing edge,” he says.

Usually potatoes accumulate cadmium from soil. This has negative effects on the quality of the crop and also means that the cadmium, a known carcinogen, is passed onto the consumer. Over time this can contribute to health issues, including cancer.

Dr Leung and Dr Ashrafzadeh have discovered a potentially cadmium-resistant line of potatoes by exposing potato cells to the toxin and monitoring cells for damage. The cells that survive the process may have natural mutations that make them resistant to cadmium exposure. These cells are then grown into potato plants for further testing.

Plant biotechnologist Dr Ashrafzadeh explains that stressing the plant cells in this way mirrors the process that would occur in nature.

“Stress is a principle that causes plants to slowly change over time. We are using stress in a lab context to push plants to evolve. We’re effectively helping them to develop a natural advantage faster,” he says.

The next phase of testing will involve growing potato plants in contaminated soil to discover how cadmium-resistant they are and determine their cadmium accumulation potential in a real world situation.

Ultimately, Dr Leung and Dr Ashrafzadeh believe that this line of potatoes could make a difference in the New Zealand potato market by adding one more unique factor to our best-selling varieties.


Redefining genetic modification – Science Media Centre gathers expert reactions

The Environmental Protection Authority is planning to tweak regulations to clear up confusion over what is and is not a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Under current law, widely-used crops can be considered “genetically modified” because of the way they were created, despite having been grown in New Zealand fields for decades.

The proposed amendments clarify that organisms and plants bred using conventional chemical and radiation treatments are not considered genetically modified under the law. These older breeding technologies were in use in New Zealand before restrictions on GMOs were put in place in 1998 and are common overseas.

The issue was raised by the High Court during a controversial court case last year which centred on the definition of GMOs.

The Science Media Centre collected the following expert commentary.

Prof Barry Scott, Professor of Molecular Genetics, Massey University, comments:

“I welcome the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the regulations under the HSNO Act to clarify what is not a genetically modified organism. Decisions like this should not be made in the High Court, as was the case in May of last year around a determination sought by Scion from EPA where the decision made by EPA was subsequently overturned in the High Court.

“It is now 40 years since the development of recombinant DNA technologies and 20 years since passage of the HSNO Act. Our knowledge of the science and the technologies themselves have advanced significantly in this period yet research in New Zealand is caught in what essentially is a time warp. Clarity around what is not a GMO is very much a first and essential step to address to avoid legal redress as occurred last year.

“However, a more general overhaul of the regulations is urgently needed for New Zealand to take advantage of the very significant advances that have taken place. The highly risk averse nature of the current New Zealand regulations are way out of step with the current scientific knowledge available on GM technologies and the regulations and practices in most international jurisdictions. This disjoint has led to a compliance regime that is excessive to what is needed to manage the low risk nature of most of the current GM techniques and technologies.”

Prof Jack Heinemann, Lecturer in Genetics, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The EPA proposal is needed to improve the clarity of the HSNO Act. The EPA proposal also helps to remove uncertainty about forms of chemical mutagenesis in use prior to 1998, and whether or not the products of these kinds of modifications should be regulated by HSNO.

“I see no additional impact of great relevance to either research or industry from the proposed revisions, because the changes are aligned with how most of us had interpreted the rules anyway.

Dr Elspeth MacRae, General Manager Manufacturing and Bioproducts, Scion comments:

“It is a fallacy that NZ is GMO-free and always has been, when we have food ingredients on our shelves produced using GMO and we wear and use cotton which is mostly GMO fibre, and we eat cheese and other foods that have been made using GMO microbes. …

“The legislation is now almost two decades old and well out of step with the rapid advancement in science and the large amount of scientific evidence regarding the risks and benefits of genetic technologies. …

“Scientifically and commercially the benefits of genetic technologies have outweighed risks (recorded in multiple analyses after over 20 years of commercial and scientific activity). New Zealand needs to be able to responsibly choose genetic options for the future based on the scientific evidence.

“Since the legislation was introduced, we have become very risk averse; costs for applications for permission to evaluate technologies has risen sharply and, as evidenced by the reduction in field trials under containment, this is blocking innovation and opportunities that should be explored. …

“In its current interpretation the law says many plants currently growing in New Zealand are now defined as GMOs. This means that in essence many people are growing such plants illegally because they have not gone through the proper EPA process.

“However, much more change is needed to the legislation to make it workable and less costly for research and business, and to promote true evaluation of the opportunities that allows benefits and risks to be assessed.

“New Zealand is a biological country and is likely to miss opportunities to capitalise on the benefits on GMO plants, including impacts that are positive for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and our future liabilities under Kyoto and later agreements.”

The Science Media Centre has abridged these comments – the full comments are available on its website.
Assoc Prof Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago, comments:

“The EPA is seeking submissions on a change to the legislation which is driven by a high court decision last year that indicated problems with the current legislation. What was pointed out by the high court is that commonly and widely used techniques, not thought of as genetic modification, are not exempt from the legislation, even though that was the intention.

“Normal selective breeding requires breeders to identify variant plants or animals, and select those with desirable characteristics. If there is not enough variation, or not the variation that is wanted, breeders can use radiation or chemical mutagens to make new variants. These chemicals or radiation cause small changes in DNA in random places, producing variants that can then be selected. These techniques are commonly used and underpin, for example, the green revolution, which had a huge positive impact in food production.

“The current legislation suggests that these techniques should be classed as genetic modification, and the organisms involved treated as genetically modified. This would have a huge effect on plant breeding and food production in particular in New Zealand, as most new varieties of plants are produced in this way.

“The changes suggested by the EPA will tidy up this problem, and will not affect the way we currently deal with genetic modification in industry or research.”

Declarations of interest:

Elspeth McCrae: Scion is involved in research using genetic modification and its EPA application was the subject of the High Court case mentioned above.

No other declarations received.

El Niño – and why we should be braced for an unusually dry summer

These observations on El Niño come from Brent Clothier, at Plant and Food Research…

All around the world, people are talking about El Niño. What is El Niño?

At the simplest level, El Niño is when a big puddle of warm water forms in the middle of the Pacific.  And the current puddle is big & warm.  The last comparable El Niño was in 1997/98. And there’s a great video of the inter-comparison at . Here’s a screen grab of the comparison as at 3rd August …

el nino


According to the latest Update from the World Meteorological Organization there is

“… a mature and strong El Niño is now present in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is likely to strengthen further. This year’s El Niño event is the strongest since 1997-1998 and is potentially among the four strongest events since 1950. The peak strength of this El Niño, expected sometime during October 2015 to January 2016.”

What does this oceanic heating that is associated with El Niño do to atmospheric and oceanic flows?

El Nino 3

NIWA says

“…during El Niño, the trade winds weaken, leading to a rise in sea surface temperature in the eastern equatorial Pacific and a reduction of ocean upwelling off South America. Heavy rainfall and flooding occur over Peru, and drought over Indonesia and Australia. The supplies of nutrient rich water off the South American coast are cut off due to the reduced upwelling, adversely affecting fisheries in that region. In the tropical South Pacific the pattern of occurrence of tropical cyclones shifts eastward, so there are more cyclones than normal.”

So what’ll happen next now we’ve a strong El Niño?

We’ll get more westerly winds and NIWA has shown (below)

“…the average rainfall amounts, in percentage of the 1981-2010 normal, that were recorded for the summer season (December – February) during the three strongest El Niño events since 1950 (1972/73, 1982/83, 1997/98). Based on this record, an elevated risk for drought for parts of New Zealand is anticipated later during summer, in particular for eastern parts of both islands as well as northern areas of the North Island.”

El Nino 2

So in prospect we’re in for an unusually dry summer, especially in the north and east of both islands.

This has prompted the Ministry of Primary Industries to issue advice to farmers on how to prepare for this summer’s El Niño. It’s at

This advice includes:

  • Have a plan in place with set dates for decisions depending on climate conditions. Discuss your plan with trusted advisers and update it over time.
  • Make decisions early and take action.
  • Use irrigation water efficiently and plan for water restrictions.

AgResearch confirms 78 jobs to be cut in restructuring

AgResearch has confirmed a restructuring that will result in the loss of nearly 80 staff.

The Bay of Plenty Times reported the cut will amount to 78 staff, five fewer than first flagged a month ago, as the Government puts pressure on it to deliver more bang for its taxpayer-funded buck.

The Waikato-based crown research institute will lose 31 scientists and 46 science technician roles across different research areas, while hiring 18 new scientists and nine new technicians, taking the net loss of staff to 51, out of its 769 full-time and 95 casuals.

Chief executive Tom Richardson said the CRI had to balance shifts in its sector’s research needs, and therefore revenue, to respond to emerging science opportunities to maximise the impact for New Zealand’s pastoral sector.

“The challenge for us all is what is the balance between the science platforms and long-term investment in areas, versus work that is seen to be more relevant in the short-term,” Richardson said.

“So this Government has been really clear that their priorities around research are to increase the amount of private sector activity and investment and to make sure the work we are doing is relevant.”

Richardson said the restructuring was about balancing the research.

Some issues, like greenhouse gases, would see a greater focus on product development than blue-sky research. Other areas like food and nutrition, would see more in-depth, early-stage research.

“In our portfolio about a quarter of what we do is blue sky, about two-quarters of what we do is in the near applied space and a quarter of what we do is in the near development phase, so we’ve got a product in mind we’re developing it and it’s almost always with a commercial co-investment, and that’s our challenge is constantly looking at that balance in quite specific areas,” Richardson said.

The balance after the staff cuts would remain about the same.

According to this New Zealand Herald report :

Hardest hit would be staff numbers at the Palmerston North-based Grasslands Research Centre, where 38 positions will go, half of them scientists.

The Ruakura campus in Hamilton would shed 15 positions – 11 technicians and four scientists – while positions at the Lincoln campus, near Christchurch, would be reduced by 19, 10 of them scientists.

At Invermay, six positions would go, while four new ones would be created there, along with six at Ruakura, eight at Grasslands and nine at Lincoln.

Soil scientist Doug Edmeades has commented at Stuff. 

Job security is among the several points he raises.

Scientists have been complaining for a long time about the stability of the current science system.

In particular, there is no ongoing certainty of job security if you choose a career in science.

Decisions about reducing or cutting funding were being made in the sterile Wellington environment without consideration of their impacts on the CRI scientists at the coal-face.

Thus, over night whole research groups could be wiped out or severely compromised.

I experienced this once in my capacity of national science leader, AgResearch, Soils and Fertiliser. Wellington expressed great surprise at the carnage and I was reassured that the losses were “unintended”.

This was not just a recruitment issue but it also impacted on staff morale.

The problem is this: Scientists once trained cannot readily change disciplines.

The reaction of Waikato University professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth is reported here.

Professor Rowarth said she was particularly worried to hear the cuts had come in the greenhouse gas and field work areas, pointing out how a new OECD report had just given New Zealand a poor rating for greenhouse gas emissions.




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