Newly identified gene helps combat devastating disease of wheat plants

A team of scientists from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and the US-based non-profit 2Blades Foundation has identified a promising resistance gene that could help fight a devastating fungus called stem rust, which attacks wheat crops and threatens global food security.

The discovery, published in Nature Plants, also identifies a gene in the fungus that triggers this resistance in the host plant, and together these discoveries provide a pathway to help wheat growers defend against this disease.

Stem rust, a virulent wheat disease (caused by the fungus Puccinia graminis) has become a major threat to wheat crops in Africa and other regions. Breeders and farmers need access to more resistant germplasm (seeds) to protect wheat yields from losses due to disease epidemics, like the Ug99 strain which is attacking wheat crops in Africa and the Middle East. Continue reading

Latest M.bovis Technical Advisory Group report is released

The latest report from the independent Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) response shows New Zealand is on track to eradicate the disease.  

“The TAG report acknowledges the improvements to our work, which aim to lessen the impact on affected farmers, their whānau, workers and rural communities,” says M. bovis Programme Director Stuart Anderson.

“I know that farmers who have been impacted have found the process challenging. Their contribution has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated, and 4 years on since the disease was first detected, immense progress has been made towards eradication. We now have just 3 active confirmed infected farms, compared to 34 farms 2 years ago.” Continue reading

Academic named inaugural New Zealand Fellow for services in Agribusiness

The International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) has awarded their first New Zealand Fellowship to Nicola Shadbolt, Professor in Farm and Agribusiness Management at Massey University.

Professor Shadbolt’s association with the organisation dates back more than 20 years and includes her taking up roles as a chairperson, moderator, and presenter of research papers (both her own and on behalf of international postgraduate students who have returned home) at annual International Food and Agribusiness Management Association conferences.

She has served on the organisation’s board for nine years and has been a judge of the annual global case study competitions.

IFAMA Fellows Chair President Emeritus Walter Armbruster acknowledged Professor Shadbolt in a virtual message at this year’s conference. Continue reading

Impact Of tile drains on water quality is being investgated

A new project in the Hawke’s Bay is investigating the impacts of tile drains on horticultural land, to provide valuable information about their effect on freshwater quality.

Horticultural tile drains are used to divert excess moisture from the soil. This can help waterlogged land become more productive.

The research project aims to understand whether this diversion of water contributes additional nutrients to our waterways that may impact water quality.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), several key players in the horticulture industry and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council have kicked off the project to investigate this further. MPI is contributing $1.34 million through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund.

“It’s a big knowledge gap currently and a potential issue that the sector is keen to examine proactively,” says Leander Archer, Horticulture and Environment Consultant at AgFirst Consultants Ltd, which is leading the research.

“The horticulture sector wants to ensure that its nutrient use is efficient, and understand if the tile drains are in fact impacting our waterways. If there’s no impact then great, we’ll have the data to prove it, and if there’s an impact at certain times of year or when we face certain types of weather, we want to know about it so we can change our management strategies.”

The project will collect data over three years on 16 commercial properties in the Heretaunga Plains in Hawke’s Bay that are used for growing fruit and vegetables. It will set up two trial sites on each farm, enabling experimentation with new management strategies in year three on one site, while leaving the other as a control.

“The Heretaunga Plains has been selected because it has extensive tile drainage networks and a range of groundwater pressures and soil types, and much of the catchment is used for high-value horticulture. Plus, the Karamū catchment within this area has reported water quality issues,” says Ms Archer.

“Horticulturalists want to grow healthy food that contributes to healthy communities, in a way that cares for the soil and waterways that sustain us all. This research will help them to do that. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes, says the outcomes of this research have the potential to provide deeper insights into how the horticultural industry can become more sustainable.

“We all want clean waterways,” says Mr Penno. “The findings will be useful for other regions across the country as well. At the very least we’ll gain more information about whether this is a problem we need to address. And at the most we’ll identify the size of the issue and how to best measure nutrient losses to understand how to mitigate these.”

AgFirst Consultants HB Ltd is currently concluding the site selection process for the trial farms, for monitoring to begin in Spring. Interested growers are encouraged to follow the project through their industry body or can get in touch at

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries


Farmers vote yes on sheepmeat and beef levies

Good news for scientists whose work  might have dried up if a  Beef + Lamb NZ vote had gone the other way.

Farmers who voted in the 2021 sheepmeat and beef levy referendum have overwhelmingly supported the continuation of the sheepmeat and beef levies.

A proposed increase in the sheepmeat levy from 1 October 2021 was also backed by farmers.

Under the Commodity Levies Act 1990, B+LNZ must ask sheepmeat and beef producers (including dairy farmers through their cull cows) if they want to continue funding

Research, market access and market promotion are among the activities funded by the levy.

B+LNZ’s diverse research portfolio supports several projects and larger programmes across animal health, productivity and genetics, environmental health and mitigations (greenhouse gas) and landscape management.

A ‘no’ vote would have halted all activities supported by the levy. Continue reading

Megan Woods opens new science building at Lincoln University

The first of two new science buildings at Lincoln University has been officially opened by the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Dr Megan Woods.

The new building will be home to over 50 staff and postgraduate students from Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Sciences, responsible for teaching and research in the animal sciences.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Bruce McKenzie said the new science facility will strengthen Lincoln’s commitment to help drive New Zealand’s transition to a more productive, low-emissions economy.

“Lincoln University has always been a chief driver of innovation in agriculture, particularly in the food and fibre sectors, and our new facilities will position us to take an even more prominent role in developing solutions for the most pressing challenges facing the land-based industries,” he said.

“Our university has been producing primary sector graduates for more than 140 years, and we remain dedicated to attracting and inspiring future generations of tauira; equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to grow a better future.

“It’s appropriate and timely that we deliver a new cutting-edge science facility as a base where our people, including our world-leading researchers, can continue their critical contribution to shaping more prosperous and sustainable communities.” Continue reading

Government consults ag/hort sector on freshwater farm plan

The Government is inviting farmers and growers to provide their practical ideas to help develop high-quality and workable freshwater farm plans, in line with its freshwater goals.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker today released the consultation documents for freshwater farm plans and stock exclusion low slope maps.

Comment is being sought on a new, more accurate, mapping approach for stock exclusion that better reflects what farmers see on the ground.

These are part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater package. Public consultation with farmers, agricultural sector groups, iwi and Māori, councils, and environmental groups will run from 26 July – 12 September.

“I want to thank industry organisations for their input so far, which has improved on original proposals. There are many farmers and growers already committed to practices to improve water quality and it’s vital they have their say and contribute to this consultation,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Taking a farm planning approach is a flexible alternative. It also provides farmers a visible way of showing their sustainability credentials to the markets we sell in to, which will help boost value growth.”

David Parker said improving freshwater quality was important to all Kiwis.

“High-quality freshwater farm plans will provide a practical way for famers to meet the freshwater standards the Government introduced last year, while helping councils play their part.

“Everybody’s feedback will be carefully considered, and we expect the outcome to be released later this year.”

“Working together and getting good ideas from this consultation is important, and that’s why I encourage people to have their say. We believe a significant improvement in freshwater quality is achievable in five years – and we can have healthy waterways within a generation,” David Parker said.

Damien O’Connor said feedback was being sought on the content of freshwater farm plans, what outcomes could be achieved, and how plans could be certified, audited and amended.

“We will also be asking about the balance between using the low slope map and freshwater farm plans for identifying areas for stock exclusion.

“The Government is listening to, and helping farmers and growers as shown already by our work with the sector on He Waka Eke Noa, integrated farm planning and ensuring farmers are using the best practices for intensive winter grazing. This approach and these initiatives are fundamental to our Fit For A Better World roadmap,’’ Damien O’Connor said. 

David Parker said the Government would soon release a review of whether the nutrient management tool, Overseer, will be a useful long term tool. An earlier report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment called for a re-evaluation of Overseer.

“We’re committed to ensuring we have the right settings and tools in place to lift freshwater quality and help people achieve that goal,” David Parker said.

The discussion document is now available on the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries websites.

The online submission forms will be available when the consultation opens on the week of 26 July on the Ministry for the Environment’s website in the have your say section.

Stock exclusion regulations – proposed changes

Freshwater farm plan regulations discussion document

Freshwater farm plan regulations supporting document

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Science helps to cook the perfect steak’; artificial intelligence is used to create new recipes

AgResearch scientists have identified the ideal cooking conditions for the “perfect steak” while harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create new food combinations and recipes.

Working with world-class development chef Dale Bowie, whose career has included working at Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin three-star restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK, the scientists analysed biochemical changes in beef steak during cooking.

While being cooked, the steak releases compounds emitted as gases called volatiles, which can be captured and analysed. These volatiles, among other factors such as texture and colour, help determine the eating quality of the steak.

Scientists Santanu Deb-Choudhury and Arvind Subbaraj studied the volatiles produced at a range of different core temperatures from cooking steak using technology called Direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS). Continue reading

Designing plantings to boost pollination in kiwifruit

New native plantings have been established in the Bay of Plenty to support kiwifruit pollination and encourage bio-diversity.

The plantings of 600 trees and shrubs on previously low-productivity land include a carefully selected mix of plants that support insects known to pollinate kiwifruit, while reducing the risks of harbouring pest species, mainly passion vine hopper.

Based on Plant & Food Research science, the project is funded by Operation Pollinator®, a Syngenta global initiative to boost the number of pollinating insects on commercial farms. It is expected that the effect of the new plants will increase as the plants establish, grow, and start to produce flowers.

The research team hopes to monitor changes in insect populations and kiwifruit yields during this period.

While restoring natives to production landscapes has become an increasingly common practice in New Zealand, this is the first project of its kind to take a prescriptive approach to enhancing pollination and avoiding creating a reservoir for pests in kiwifruit.

“If you want to stabilise a streambank, or return nitrogen to the soil, we know certain native plants can do that”, says project leader Dr Brad Howlett from Plant & Food Research. “We want to take the same approach for enhancing crop pollination by managing the landscape.”

Dr Howlett’s team worked for several years to get a clear picture of which insects, including native bees, flies, and beetles are the most important for kiwifruit pollination. To be good pollinators, the insects must visit kiwifruit flowers and  transfer sufficient amounts of pollen between male and female flowers.

Once researchers identified the most important pollinators, they surveyed native plants to learn which of these were important for the best pollinators.

“The plantings that were established this year include plant species which we know kiwifruit pollinators use during their life cycle and, importantly, these plants flower at different times to kiwifruit. This will support large populations of pollinating insects ready to move onto the crop during flowering,” says Dr Howlett.

The kiwifruit industry is entirely dependent on pollination, and relies heavily on managed honey bees and manual pollination to ensure that flowers set fruit. Human pollination (either by hand or vehicle-based) can be expensive, and access to honey bee hives can be limited because of overlap with Mānuka honey collection and concerns about the effects of crop-protecting nets on colony health.

Increased support for native insects should help to reduce concerns about pollination in this high-value crop.

Source:  Plant & Food Research