Scientist honoured for outstanding contribution to NZ’s pipfruit industry

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Jim Walker has been awarded the New Zealand Apple and Pear industry’s Outstanding Contribution Award.

New Zealand Apple and Pear board member Peter Beaven presented Dr Walker with the award at the industry’s annual conference in Napier and noted his long service and significant impact.

Mr Beaven said Dr Walker was the brains behind the Integrated Fruit Production programme introduced in the 1990s.

The programme was a world first and a huge departure from the then current practice around the world.

“With IFP, growers started monitoring the numbers of harmful insects on orchards through pheromone trapping and introduced the use of targeted selective sprays when required,” Mr Beaven said.

“The IFP system was introduced across the entire industry in a remarkably short time due in no small measure to this man’s efforts. Today we take such systems for granted.”

Dr Walker was also instrumental in the next generation of orchard management – the Apple Futures programme, which further reduced residue levels on fruit and enabled the industry to tailor production systems of blocks within orchards to meet the phytosanitary and residue requirements for specific markets.

“However, I rate Jim’s most significant contribution to our industry as making science easy to understand for non-scientists. The best science is useless if growers cannot understand it or know how to apply it in a commercial setting. Jim has always had the knack of explaining things in ways we laypeople can readily grasp”.

Dr Walker said he was honoured to be the award recipient – and he is not yet ready to retire.

“I have been really proud to serve this industry which I have been involved in one way or another since 1972.

“I’ve worked in the industry for almost 45 years and I’m not ready for the ‘R’ word so I’m not retiring but will be reducing my hours. It’s been great to work within an outstanding industry, with outstanding growers and it has been an amazing opportunity.

“I have been part of a team of people and although the success of the IFP programme is often tracked back to one individual, it has been a bigger team that have helped along the way such as my colleagues at Plant & Food and at DSIR before that.”

Dr Walker said highlights have been seeing growers achieve a 90 per cent reduction in pesticide loading (per hectare); the elimination across the apple industry of the use of former ‘highly toxic’ insecticides; about 35 per cent of the industry now using non-insecticidal ‘mating disruption’ techniques (i.e. sex pheromones) and the lowest possible pesticide residues on IFP (NZ) apples in international markets, a similar risk profile to organic apples.

“A lot of the work has been fun, working in the discovery and developing of the concept of multiple species as a distribution system. I can see grown men chuckle when we talked about tethering virgin female moths and putting them out in orchard to see if they will get discovered by males in the presence of all of the pheromone out there,” he said.

Dr Walker said another highlight was gaining access for apples into Australia, although there is still work to do in getting meaningful access.

New national standard for plantation forestry is announced

A new nationwide set of environmental rules for managing New Zealand’s 1.7 million hectares of plantation forestry will better protect the environment and deliver significant savings in compliance costs, Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith and Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston say.

Forestry is New Zealand’s third largest primary industry but its efficiency is hampered by the confusing mix of planning rules across New Zealand’s 86 councils, Dr Smith says.

The strength of the national approach is that it will better protect the environment while  improving the productivity of the forestry sector by applying consistent environmental standards to reduce operational costs.

A major change with the new regulations is the development of three new tools for managing the environmental impacts from forestry, covering the issues of erosion, wilding pines and fish spawning.

The restrictions on forestry activities are related to the environmental risk rather than the council area in which a forestry operation is located.  This change is particularly important as 80 per cent of forest owners manage forests in multiple council areas.

“This new national forestry standard is part of the Government’s broader Resource Management Act reforms, facilitated by amendments passed in May this year,” Smith says.

“It follows other national regulations covering telecommunications, electricity transmission, waste tyre management, water metering and drinking water, contaminated soils and aquaculture.”

Ms Upston says the forestry industry will benefit from having a set of consistent regulations to operate under.

“Planning rules at local government level are subject to regular reviews and there could be as many as three sets of regional or district plan rules. Some large forests also cross local government boundaries, resulting in different rules for the same forest.”

“Removing this uncertainty will encourage greater investment in a significant contributor to our economy, especially at regional level. Forestry employs more than 26,000 people and exports total more than $5 billion a year,” Ms Upston says.

“The National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry covers eight core plantation forestry activities: afforestation, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, river crossings, forestry quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation and replanting. Councils may apply stricter rules in special circumstances where local conditions require a more restrictive approach.”

The standard, which comes into force on 1 May, 2018, was developed jointly by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment. Support and guidance will be provided to councils, foresters and key stakeholders to ensure an effective rollout.

Three-year Marsden Fund Investment Plan released

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith says the new three-year Investment Plan for the Marsden Fund, launched by the Marsden Fund Council, will help guide the strategic direction of the fund and contribute to the National Statement of Science Investment.

The Marsden Fund Council, which oversees the fund, developed the plan following an assessment earlier this year undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The fund was found to be highly regarded, well-run and effective at selecting high-quality research within its current settings, but recommended an investment plan to provide strategic direction, and ensure the fund continues to be effective and fit-for-purpose.

“The National Statement of Science Investment sets clear expectations for Government investment in research – we invest in excellence and we invest for impact. This plan signals a number of adjustments that will align the Fund with our broader vision for the research sector,” says Mr Goldsmith.

The Investment Plan outlines key changes which will be put in place for the 2018 funding round. These include:

  • Introducing a new award to support large interdisciplinary projects, worth up to $3 million;
  • Allowing researchers to apply for follow-on awards to sustain momentum for outstanding research;
  • Modifying assessment criteria to align more closely with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI), including the potential for significant scholarly impact;
  • Trialling a broader assessment panel structure;
  • Undertaking additional moderation between panels to ensure the quality and consistency of research selected from all disciplines; and
  • Providing more feedback to unsuccessful applicants and institutions following on preliminary proposals.

“The Marsden Fund has delivered high-quality research for the last 23 years and I’m confident that the strategic direction outlined in the Investment Plan will ensure it continues to do so for many years to come,” Mr Goldsmith says.

Further details on the implementation of the plan will be provided to the research community through a series of roadshows around the country, organised by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Marsden Fund Council is developing a Performance Framework for the Fund which will be published later this year.

More information and the Investment Plan can be found HERE. The Marsden Fund Assessment Report can be found HERE.

Scientists gauge risk of protein deficiency caused by carbon dioxide emissions

Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions lower the nutritional value of staple crops, increasing the risk for dietary deficiencies among the world’s most vulnerable people.

A just-published American study provides further evidence for the need to curb human-caused CO2 emissions.

According to new findings from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, if CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, the populations of 18 countries may lose more than 5% of their dietary protein by 2050 due to a decline in the nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops.

The researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the first study to quantify this risk.

“This study highlights the need for countries that are most at risk to actively monitor their populations’ nutritional sufficiency, and, more fundamentally, the need for countries to curb human-caused CO2 emissions,” said Samuel Myers, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health.

The study will be published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. To estimate their current and future risk of protein deficiency, the researchers combined data from experiments in which crops were exposed to high concentrations of CO2 with global dietary information from the United Nations and measures of income inequality and demographics.

They found that under elevated CO2 concentrations, the protein contents of rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes decreased by 7.6%, 7.8%, 14.1%, and 6.4%, respectively. The results suggested continuing challenges for Sub Saharan Africa, where millions already experience protein deficiency, and growing challenges for South Asian countries, including India, where rice and wheat supply a large portion of daily protein. The researchers found that India may lose 5.3% of protein from a standard diet, putting a predicted 53 million people at new risk of protein deficiency.

A companion paper co-authored by Myers, which will be published as an Early View article August 2, 2017 in GeoHealth, found that CO2-related reductions in iron content in staple food crops are likely to also exacerbate the already significant problem of iron deficiency worldwide. Those most at risk include 354 million children under 5 and 1.06 billion women of childbearing age–predominantly in South Asia and North Africa–who live in countries already experiencing high rates of anemia and who are expected to lose more than 3.8% of dietary iron as a result of this CO2 effect.

These two studies, taken alongside a 2015 study co-authored by Myers showing that elevated CO2 emissions are also likely to drive roughly 200 million people into zinc deficiency, quantify the significant nutritional toll expected to arise from human-caused CO2 emissions.

“Strategies to maintain adequate diets need to focus on the most vulnerable countries and populations, and thought must be given to reducing vulnerability to nutrient deficiencies through supporting more diverse and nutritious diets, enriching the nutritional content of staple crops, and breeding crops less sensitive to these CO2 effects. And, of course, we need to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions as quickly as possible,” Myers said.

Funding for the study was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by the Winslow Foundation.

—————-

“Estimated Effects of Future Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Protein Intake and the Risk of Protein Deficiency by Country and Region,” Danielle E. Medek, Joel Schwartz, and Samuel S. Myers, Environmental Health Perspectives, online August 2, 2017, doi: 10.1289/EHP41

“Potential rise in iron deficiency due to future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions,” M. R. Smith, C. D. Golden, and S. S. Myers, GeoHealth, Early View article, August 2, 2017, doi: 10.1002/2016GH000018

 

Queensland lambing rates burgeon after state-funded building of 5000km of fences

A fence-building spree to keep out wild dogs has created a booming lambing rate in western Queensland.

An extra 213,000 sheep have been recorded in the state flock in the past two years, following the state government’s funding of the construction of 5000km of fencing to keep out wild dogs and other feral invaders.

The region’s lambing rate – the number born per 100 “matings” – has soared from less than 20% to 90%, says the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

She said this would deliver an extra “45 full-time jobs worth $2.5m per year”.

The fencing, funded by $13.2m in state grants, now protects almost 300 western Queensland properties from wild dogs and other feral invaders and stretches along a distance which Palaszcuk said was “the same as a return highway journey from Cairns to Sydney”.

The state government has also loaned Longreach regional council $18m to build another 2500km.

Palaszczuk said the government had gone “way beyond” a 2015 election promise to give $5m in funding over three years to tackle feral animals that threaten farmers, and “as a result we are now seeing renewed confidence in the sheep and wool sector”.

In its report on this project (HERE), The Guardian describes Queensland as a relative minnow in Australia’s $4.8b sheep meat export industry, the world’s largest.

It had only 2.2m of the nation’s 70m flock in 2015 and only 1.4% of its lamb production, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

Veteran science journalist laments public rejection of climate change evidence

A 98-year-old US science journalist, who has finally decided to retire, says a generation of Americans are suffering from a “major disability in what they can think about and understand”.

This  was one reason why so many people refused to recognise climate change was real, David Perlman told the website of the Poynter Institute, which trains the media.

For the majority of his career, he has covered scientific progress in the 20th century and beyond, writing thousands of articles about everything from the beginning of the space age to the computer age.

Perlman, a journalist at The San Francisco Chronicle,  described cuts in science coverage by newspapers as “absolutely obscene”.

 “Newspapers, whether online or in print, are a major factor in the ongoing education and awareness of the public, and specifically of a younger generation,” he said.

“And whether it’s online or in print, the idea of failing to cover advances in science … it creates a generation with a major disability in what they can think about and understand.”

Perlman has not only won awards but had them named after him, The Independent says (HERE) in a report on his remarks.

The lack of critical thinking that dismays him was being demonstrated in the US public’s reaction to scientific evidence that the world is getting warmer because of greenhouse gas emissions, largely caused by fossil fuels.

“A perfect example of that [lack of understanding of science] is the controversy over climate change, global warming and all that that implies,” Mr Perlman said.

“The failure of people to understand that this is real science, and it’s just as scientifically valid as an issue today as is the fact that we’re going to have an eclipse of the sun on August 21. That’s not a theory — that’s going to happen.

“And the climate is going to change more, and more and more.

“The resistance to an understanding of that I can understand … which is largely generated by people whose economic interests are threatened by the fact that what’s causing the changing climate is, in fact, the increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.”

A recent poll by YouGov found 57 per cent of Americans thought that a combination of human activity and natural causes were causing global warming.

Nasa and other scientific bodies, however, say greenhouse gas emissions have caused the vast majority of recent warming with the world experiencing three successive, record-breaking hottest years. The natural El Nino weather cycle has had a relatively minor effect.

Mr Perlman said once there had been 50 to 75 pages in newspapers devoted to science across the US but now “there’s The New York Times on Tuesday” with only a few others having anything similar.

He said newspapers have abdicated their responsibility by diminishing the amount of science coverage.

Supreme Court ruling on NZ’s largest irrigation dam proposal is examined

Massey University Associate Professor Christine Cheyne, in a guest post published on Sciblogs (HERE) discusses the recent Supreme Court rejection of a proposed land swap that would have flooded conservation land for the construction of the country’s largest irrigation dam.

The court was considering whether the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s investment arm could build a dam on 22 hectares of the protected Ruahine Forest Park in exchange for 170 hectares of private farm land.

The proposed dam is part of the $900 million Ruataniwha water storage and irrigation scheme.

The Government’s response to the ruling was to consider a law change to make land swaps easier.

Associate Professor Cheyne says the Supreme Court ruling has significant implications for the Ruataniwha dam.

“In addition, it asserts the importance of permanent protection of high-value conservation land. The ecological value of the Ruahine Forest Park land was never in question. The conservation land includes indigenous forest, a unique braided river and wetlands that would have been destroyed.

“The area is home to a dozen plants and animals that are classified as threatened or at risk. The developer’s ecological assessment acknowledged the destruction of ecologically significant land and water bodies. However, it argued that mitigation and offsetting would ensure that any effects of habitat loss were at an acceptable level.”

The guest post reviews what has happened and the need for the conservation of unique ecosystems and landscapes.

It also contains advice for the Government:

The ConversationAmending the Conservation Act to allow land swaps involves a significant discounting of the future in favour of present day citizens. This is disingenuous and an affront to constitutional democracy. It would weaken one of New Zealand’s few anticipatory governance mechanisms at a time when they are needed more than ever.”

The article was originally published (HERE )on The Conversation.