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.