Drought will bring more crop disease, scientists warn

New Zealand’s land-based primary industries need to get ready for increasingly serious crop disease as climate change causes more and longer droughts, according to new research.

In the journal Australasian Plant Pathology, the authors of the study say climate change is expected to bring more droughts in many parts of New Zealand, and more droughts are “likely to increase the severity of a wide range of diseases affecting the plant-based productive sectors”.

Scientists from the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Scion, Lincoln University, AUT University, Landcare Research and the University of Auckland analysed the potential impact of climate-change-induced drought on several commercial plants and their diseases.

They found that in most instances “increased drought is expected to increase disease expression”.

The probable negative effects of drought include

“…a predisposition of hosts to infection through general weakening and/or suppressed disease resistance”. More frequent and more severe droughts could also lead to “emergence of enhanced or new diseases of plants that can reduce primary production”.

New plant disease pressures are expected to occur

“… with potentially devastating impacts for New Zealand’s productive sectors.”

But the news is not all bad.

“Drought may reduce the severity of some diseases, such as Sclerotina rot of kiwifruit and red needle cast (RNC) of radiata pine,” the scientists said.

And in some cases it could “activate systemic defence mechanisms resulting in increased resistance to infection”.

In an extended case study the authors said that the effects of increased drought on New Zealand’s Pinus radiata industry would depend on many factors, including whether drought happened early or late in the season.

“There is urgent need to study the impacts of the different levels of drought and different levels of RNC severity to understand the thresholds at which radiata pine plantations would still accomplish their economic and ecological roles.”

Lead author Dr Steve Wakelin, of the Bio-Protection Research Centre and Scion, said it was essential that more research was carried out so each industry could prepare for the effects of drought.

“Many industries, such as agriculture and horticulture, may have time to gradually change over the next 20 or 30 years, to avoid the worst effects of drought or even take advantage of any opportunities the changing climate may bring.

“However, plantation forestry does not have the luxury of flexibility. What is planted now will need to not just survive but thrive in whatever climate and disease conditions are prevailing in the next 20, 30, or 40 years.

“It’s essential that primary industries with a long production cycle start assessing and addressing the risks and opportunities a much drier climate will bring.”

***

Wakelin, S.A., Gomez-Gallego, M., Jones, E. et al. Climate change induced drought impacts on plant diseases in New Zealand Australasian Plant Pathol. (2018) 47: 101.

Source: Bioprotection Research Centre

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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.

High value fungi may offer new industry for NZ

Scientists could open up new opportunities for the New Zealand forestry industry following recent research into the cultivation and commercialization of two edible fungi crops: saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus) and Bianchetto truffle (Tuber borchii).

Plant & Food Research’s Alexis Guerin and Hon. Associate Professor Wang Yun have been investigating the high-value delicacies on a farm in Lincoln with successful and tasty results.

Their work was the subject of a media release this week from Plant & Food Research.

“These crops could be the next innovative gourmet export food product for New Zealand” say Dr Guerin.

“Elsewhere in the world they are highly regarded for their potential health benefits and even support a dedicated truffle-tourism industry”.

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