VineFacts turns 600 – will they be celebrating with bubbly?

VineFacts, produced by scientists at Plant & Food Research and published by New Zealand Winegrowers, provides information on weather and potential disease pressure to help growers make decisions for vineyard management to optimise their crop.

In the mid-1990s, a Technology for Business Growth project was set up in Marlborough that looked at integrated disease management of vines. It looked to compare different spray regimes for botrytis, powdery mildew and downy mildew.

One of the main outcomes was a weekly disease monitoring of blocks and the dissemination of advice on sprays through a publication called Smartfax.

This fax-based service was sent out to a small group of local Marlborough viticulturists and winemakers. Over the years the number of recipients grew and today all New Zealand Winegrowers members have access to it. The name has also changed, from Smartfax to Vinefax to VineFacts. It also changed from being sent out by fax, to being sent out by email and now it is web-based.

Since the 2014-15 season VineFacts has been a national publication covering Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago. Its content has also expanded to include weather summaries from different weather stations around these districts, vine phenology, yield comparisons from monitored blocks, information of potential botrytis and powdery mildew infection periods as well as pertinent articles of interest.

Over the years, this publication has been financially sustained through subscriptions, the Marlborough Research Centre Trust and the Sustainable Farming Fund.

For the period 1997 to 2014 VineFacts was under the ownership of the Marlborough Research Centre Trust (MRC). With the expansion of VineFacts to a national publication in 2014 the MRC Trust gifted ownership of VineFacts to New Zealand Winegrowers.

NZW now funds VineFacts to be freely available to all members. VineFacts is also supported with substantial in-kind funding from Plant & Food Research and collaborating wine companies.

Dr Rengasamy Balasubramaniam, known to the industry as Bala, was responsible for getting VineFacts off the ground in the 1990s. Rob Agnew, who now leads the project, has been part of the VineFacts team since its inception, joined by Victoria Raw in 2006.

Source: Plant & Food Research

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Study finds Vespex wasp bait safe for bee colonies

A study has found use of the protein-based Vespex wasp bait for control of German and common wasps does not harm bee colonies.

Vespex wasp bait is an important wasp control tool for beekeepers to protect their bees from introduced wasps stealing honey and attacking bees. It is also used by community groups, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and others where wasps are a nuisance to people and to protect native birds and insects from wasps.

In the Victoria University of Wellington and DOC study, no fipronil insecticide used in Vespex wasp bait was detected in a total of 480 worker bee, bee larva, honey and pollen samples collected over a two-year period from 30 hives which had wasp bait stations nearby.

The study was carried out by DOC scientist Eric Edwards and Victoria University of Wellington scientists Ethan Woolly, Rose McLellan and Dr Robert Keyzers.

Eric Edwards says Vespex wasp bait was considered safe for bees as it’s made from protein with no sugars and the research adds further weight to confirm it being unattractive to bees as they prefer sweet foods.

Testing of samples of bees, bee larvae, pollen and honey was carried out at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

Dr Rob Keyzers says the test that was developed was sufficiently sensitive to be able to detect very small traces of fipronil, matching sensitivities reported in European field studies for agricultural uses of the insecticide and for laboratory testing of toxicities for bees.

A low level of a fipronil breakdown product was detected in initial testing of seven worker bees, but it wasn’t detected in two further tests of the same bee sample. The researchers concluded the derivative trace was likely just from a single bee and a rare occurrence given it wasn’t detected in follow up testing from the same sample or from any other hives sampled and it may not have come from Vespex wasp bait.

“Bees are social insects that share resources within their hives,” says Eric Edwards. “Foods are rapidly transferred within a hive environment between forager and nurse bees, bee larvae and products like honey. All of these were tested showing no evidence of transfer inside hives of the insecticide in the wasp bait.”

An economic impact analysis published in 2015 estimated $8.8 million in direct costs to beekeepers from wasp attacks with even higher costs from the impact on the services that bees provide.

The research report has been published in the PLOS ONE open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). It can be found at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0206385

Source: Department of Conservation

New NAIT compliance officers are ready to work in the field

A cohort of 27 new NAIT (National Animal Identification and Tracing) compliance officers are ready to hit the ground and start working with farmers after graduating from their training programme on Friday.

Animal welfare and NAIT compliance manager Gray Harrison says the new officers are part of a stepped-up effort to educate farmers about their NAIT obligations and enforce compliance with the scheme.

“The new officers will be located throughout the country helping farmers use NAIT consistently and taking action when non-compliance is detected,” Mr Harrison says.

“The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has issued 97 infringement notices to farmers for non-compliance with NAIT since the start of 2018.

“In addition, OSPRI (which manages the NAIT scheme) has issued more than 600 letters to farmers about non-compliance.”

Mr Harrison says there has been a steady increase in the number of animal movements recorded through NAIT.

“We’re pleased to see there has been an almost 20% increase in the number of animal movements recorded this year compared to the same period in 2017.

“It is essential all farmers, including lifestylers, register their cattle and deer in NAIT and record all animal movements.

“A well-functioning NAIT scheme is a vital part of our national biosecurity system as it helps MPI respond to and manage animal diseases, such as Mycoplasma bovis.”

Mr Harrison says that changes are being made by MPI and OSPRI to improve the scheme and ensure it is fit for the future.

“It is important farmers know that OSPRI is there to help if they have any questions or concerns about their NAIT account. They’ve got experienced staff on hand who know how to use the system and want to help.

“MPI is currently consulting the public on potential changes to the NAIT Act and regulations to improve the scheme.”

Farmers have until 19 December to have their say on MPI’s proposed law changes.

Find out more about the consultation HERE.

OSPRI is making operational changes to improve the scheme, including making the system faster and easier to use.

The NAIT scheme requires anybody in charge of cattle and deer to register their animals and record any animal movements.

NAIT officers ensure those who are subject to the NAIT Act are aware of and are compliant with, their obligations under the law. Their day-to-day work will include checking farms and lifestyle blocks, educating people in charge of cattle and deer about their obligations and enforcing the NAIT Act where required to do so.

The graduation ceremony was held at the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Christchurch office on Friday.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

Lincoln offers more scholarships to attract Māori and Pasifika students

Lincoln University is continuing its drive to increase Māori and Pasifika representation in tertiary study by introducing a suite of scholarships in 2019.

The $5000 scholarships are intended to assist those passionate about agriculture, science, tourism, Mātauraka Māori including Mahinga kai, and to support students pathwaying up from other tertiary providers.

Lincoln introduced Māori and Pasifika Accommodation Scholarships at the start of 2018. These are additional to Sir Turi Carroll Scholarships for Māori student leaders which were initiated in 2013.

Lincoln University Director Maori and Pasifika, Dr Dione Payne, said the intent of the scholarships is to support and encourage Māori and Pasifika students to achieve their aspirations for their whenua, whānau, hapū and iwi.

It is part of an overall strategy to increase the number of Māori and Pasifika students at Lincoln University, which includes pastoral and cultural support to create a home-like atmosphere on campus for those away from whānau.

The scholarships are a key component of Lincoln University’s Whenua Strategy (for Māori) and Motu Strategy (for Pasifika), she said.

The new scholarships are –

Aoraki Connect Scholarship – for Māori tertiary students pathwaying up from other educational providers.

Mātauraka Māori Scholarship – for Māori students who demonstrate excellence in subjects focused on Te Ao Māori.

Ahuwhenua Scholarship – for Māori students who enrol in an agricultural focused qualification.

Putaiao Scholarship – Māori students who demonstrate an interest and excellence in science related subjects.

Tāpoi Scholarship – for Māori students that demonstrate an interest and excellence in tourism related subjects

Fanua Scholarship – for Domestic Pasifika students from any high school that demonstrate excellence in any subject that relates to Lincoln University subject areas.

More information on the scholarships can be found at http://www.lincoln.ac.nz/Study/Qualifications/Qualification/scholarships/

New Zealand implements hydrofluorocarbon rules to help cool the planet

The Environmental Protection Authority is leading New Zealand’s implementation of the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to reduce the levels of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

A new permitting scheme to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders from climate change will be introduced in February next year, to be applied to all bulk imports and exports of HFC gases, which are used in refrigeration units and air-conditioning units.

Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Substances group, said science has shown HFC gases are potent greenhouse gases, which means they capture heat from the sun and release it into the Earth’s atmosphere.

HFC gases have a high global warming potential (GWP), which can be as much as 50 to 14,800 times more than carbon dioxide.

The Kigali Amendment builds on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which has been instrumental in repairing ozone layer damage caused by ozone-depleting gases during the 1980s.

“If Kigali is successful it is estimated it could reverse current warming up to an estimated 0.5 degrees by the end of the century,” said Dr Thomson-Carter.

“The EPA’s role under the Ozone Layer Protection Regulations will see the Authority manage the permit system for 18 different HFC gases.”

Read more about the Kigali Amendment here.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

Government announces set of improvements to NZ’s Emissions Trading Scheme

Acting Climate Change Minister Julie Anne Genter has announced the first of two planned tranches of improvements to the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) following recent public consultation.

These improvements, together with the second tranche of decisions, are expected to be introduced to Parliament next year as amendments to the Climate Change Response Act 2002, which is the legislation that established the ETS.

The improvements will create a more effective ETS to help meet the Government’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plant one billion trees, Ms Genter said.

The most significant improvement is establishing a framework which will enable New Zealand’s emissions under the ETS to be capped. This would restrict the number of units supplied into the scheme, increasing the incentive to reduce emissions.

“Up until now, the ETS has been the only emissions trading scheme globally which doesn’t have a cap. The ability to set a cap will help New Zealand meet its international climate change targets, as well as any new domestic targets,” says Acting Minister Genter.

The improvements also focus on providing more certainty to scheme participants.

Submitters to the recent ETS consultation told the Government that ETS settings needed to be more predictable so participants could confidently take further action to invest in low-emissions activities, Ms Genter said.

A predictable process to manage the cap over time will include annual announcements looking forward five years.

And auctioning will be introduced into the ETS in a way that aligns the supply of units with New Zealand’s emission reduction targets.

The cost containment reserve, operated through the auctioning mechanism, will replace the current price ceiling, or fixed price option (FPO).

The cap will include setting the number of units to be auctioned and the settings for the new cost containment reserve.

Currently, market participants can choose to pay $25 for every tonne of emissions they emit instead of buying units from emissions unit holders.

The fixed price option for surrenders due in 2019 will continue to remain at $25 “to maintain regulatory predictability.”

“We want the ETS reforms to be well-managed and well-signalled and this means keeping the FPO in place while those reforms go through,” Ms Genter says.

The Government will also investigate the potential introduction of a price floor in the scheme.

“We heard from submitters that having a price floor in the ETS might encourage investment to reduce emissions, so we are going to investigate this option further,” says Ms Genter.

“No decision has been made as to when the ETS will be reopened to international units but, at this stage, they would not be a first choice.

“If, in future, the Government decided to allow international units, we would ensure that the units were of high environmental integrity. 

“We’re confident that these changes provide an important balance between predictability for market participants, and flexibility for the Government to manage the ETS so that it supports our emissions reduction targets.”

Other key changes include setting up an infringement offence regime for low-level offending against the ETS rules, and taking steps to improve market governance.

Throughout August and September, the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industries, and Forestry New Zealand consulted on proposed improvements to the ETS.

Just over 250 submissions were received from businesses and industry groups, iwi and Māori, community groups and individuals. The majority supported the Government’s proposals.

Copies of the submissions can be viewed at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/ets

Information about the forestry changes planned for the ETS can be found by visiting the Ministry for Primary Industries webpage https://www.mpi.govt.nz/funding-and-programmes/forestry/emissions-trading-scheme/

Transparent Overseer is called for to regulate water quality

A report on whether Overseer is suitable for use in regulation to help clean up New Zealand’s rivers and lakes  has been released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton.

The report recommends that if the Government wants Overseer to be used as a regulatory tool, several issues must be addressed.  It also calls for greater transparency.

“It is time to open up Overseer,” Mr Upton says. “If the Government wants to see the model being used as a regulatory tool then a large measure of transparency is needed.”

Overseer was originally developed as a farm management tool to calculate nutrient loss but is increasingly being used by councils in regulation. Excessive nutrient run-off from farms has an impact on the health of waterways.

To ensure cleaner water, farmers and regional councils need to be confident that Overseer’s outputs are reliable,  Mr Upton said.

“To help build confidence there needs to be more transparency around how the model operates. Any model operates with a measure of uncertainty. That’s normal. The question is whether the level of uncertainty is an acceptable one.

“Confidence in Overseer can only be improved by opening up its workings to greater scrutiny.

“It will take time to improve Overseer and provide transparency around how it operates. In the meantime, regional councils can continue to use it but they need to be aware of its limitations.”

The Overseer and regulatory oversight report finds that important elements of the model are not open for review, and some gaps and shortcomings need to be addressed.

Other issues that must be addressed for Overseer to be used as a regulatory tool include:

  • Commissioning a comprehensive evaluation to ensure the Overseer model is independently peer reviewed, and is subject to sensitivity and uncertainty analysis;
  • Providing greater transparency around how the model works;
  • Aligning Overseer’s ownership, governance and funding arrangements with the transparency required for it to be used as a regulatory tool;
  • Providing official guidance on how Overseer should be used by regional councils.

Source:  Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment,