Survey of Rural Decision Makers 2019 finds biosecurity likely to become increasingly important

The results of the fourth biennial Survey of Rural Decision Makers, run by scientists at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, have been released.

More than 3700 people responded to the survey during spring 2019. Respondents include both lifestyle and commercial farmers, foresters, and growers from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

A core set of questions remained similar to previous waves of the survey, to allow researchers to identify trends over time.

New questions were added to reflect emerging issues in the primary sector such as farm-level biosecurity and climate change.

The 2019 survey shows greater adoption of land management practices since 2017 such as managing effluent storage, restricting stock from waterways, and managing soil compaction and pugging. Riparian planting also increased slightly relative to 2015.

More dairy farmers and growers reported intentions to intensify their operations in 2019 than in 2017, with one in seven dairy farmers and one in five growers planning to intensify within the next two years.

All sectors reported that biosecurity would take on increasing importance over the next five years relative to the last five years. These intentions rose especially for dairy farmers and fruit/nut growers, consistent with increased awareness of Mycoplasma bovis, brown marmorated stink bug, and other emerging threats.

The majority of survey respondents believe that climate change is already affecting New Zealand. Roughly three-fourths of these anticipate that the frequency or intensity of drought, heat waves, flooding, and storms will increase in the future. There was an increase across the board of management practices to mitigate climate change effects such as changing stock rates, planting native trees, increasing feed reserves, changing stock breeds, investing in infrastructure to stop flooding, and increasing water storage.

The Survey of Rural Decision Makers is a significant data resource to help policy makers, industry groups, and farm and forestry businesses better understand both current practice and future plans.

More information is available from

Source:  Landcare Research

How soil science keeps going during the virus lockdown

While New Zealand’ has been in COVID-19 lockdown, scientists at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research have developed some ingenious home-based workarounds, to ensure  their research can keep going even if they aren’t allowed to go into the field to do their fieldwork.

Jagath Ekanayake, a scientist in the CRI’s Soils & Landscapes team, is working on an MBIE Endeavour-funded project called “Hill Country Futures” run by Beef + Lamb New Zealand Ltd.

One objective of this wide-ranging work is to show whether variations in soil moisture and soil temperature can be mapped at the farm scale, to model the expected performance of different types of legume pasture.

In collaboration with AgResearch and Lincoln University, the team at Landcare Research plans to install a sensor network on six farms in the North and South Islands to record soil moisture and temperature, and then to model the whole farm in detail from that data.

Jagath’s job is to build the six sensor networks on which this work will rely.

The sensors are clever pieces of kit – they don’t just record the data for someone to come and get it later, but each sensor also communicates with a gateway base site up to 15km away. The gateway, which has cell phone connectivity, sends the data to a cloud storage site where it can be viewed and used in near real-time.

Each network has 20 dual sensors that record both moisture and temperature.

But with the lockdown in place, the fieldwork can’t begin on farm – yet.

To make up for lost time, Jagath has been building all 120 sensors on his living room table. To test the first 20-sensor network ahead of the lockdown being lifted, he has installed the directional antennae and logger for each sensor on his garden fence, while the sensors are stuck into his lawn.

Jagath says particular thanks are due to his wife, Chitra, both for allowing the living room to be taken over for the project during lockdown, and for help in assembling the sensor nodes.

Source:  Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

New research programme targets smarter erosion control


As severe storms and significant weather events continue to increase in New Zealand, so does the amount of erosion.

According to the Ministry for the Environment’s Our land 2018 report, almost half (44 per cent) of this loss is from pastoral land.

A new collaborative five-year MBIE funded programme ‘Smarter Targeting of Erosion Control’ (STEC) led by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research is now under way, with the task of exploring cost-effective ways of targeting land-based erosion control in the hope of slowing the damage and improving water quality.

“This research will improve our understanding of where erosion occurs, sediment volume, what type of sediment is produced, and by which processes,” says Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research Geomorphologist Dr Hugh Smith co-leads the project. Continue reading

Digging into the roots of NZ’s golden opportunity

Scientists and Māori agribusiness have teamed up to learn about mānuka DNA variation, beehive stocking rates, and honey bee food resources.

As the mānuka gold rush continues to soar, New Zealand’s honey bee population is increasing: there are now more than 875,000 registered beehives across the country, twice as many as 15 years ago.

The majority of New Zealand’s natural mānuka populations are growing on Māori-owned land. Continue reading

Shared science MOU to benefit the Waikato region

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and Waikato Regional Council have signed a memorandum of understanding, creating a platform for a planned and collaborative approach to research.

Manaaki Whenua chief executive Richard Gordon says it’s important for Crown Research Institutes to recognise the excellent applied science carried out by regional councils, and the collaboration of knowledge will help deliver the greatest benefits for the region, as well as for New Zealand.

“We already enjoy a close and positive working relationship on some projects with Waikato Regional Council, and this MOU covers all bases, including sharing regional environmental data and tools,” Mr Gordon said

Shared research interests include:

– biodiversity and biosecurity research, policy and practices

– wetland management and restoration

– impacts of climate change

– land use intensification and mitigations such as carbon sequestration

 – economic and environmental modelling.

Waikato Regional Council chief executive Vaughan Payne says collaborative work is already under way on a soil mapping programme to better understand land management impacts on water quality.

Among other things, this piece of work will assist in the creation and implementation of farm environment plans.

A combined project to better understand the Waikato’s unique peat soils, to enable better management and protection, is also about to start.

Source: Waikato Regional Council

Fellowship is awarded for research into the impact of climate change on NZ

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientist Dr Kendon Bell has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue his research into measuring the impact of climate change on New Zealand land.

The research, Empirical measurement of the impact of climate change: correcting for measurement error in precipitation and understanding the incidence of impacts, looks at how rainfall impacts agriculture and land.

Climate econometrics is an emerging field that combines the history of connections between weather, and economic and social outcomes with climate forecasts to estimate future damages from climate change.

Dr Bell said this work gives him the chance to combine economics and big data to tackle a key question for society.

“I’m really excited to be doing rigorous, data-driven research that will help us learn about how climate change will affect people.”

Current models suggest New Zealand has exposure to more frequent and intense weather episodes, particularly droughts and extreme rain events.

It is therefore crucial to understand the true impact of these changes. Current literature that uses modern econometric techniques indicates that rainfall has a small impact on agriculture.

Dr Bell believes this counter-intuitive result may be due to a lack of accurate precipitation measurements. The Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable him to test this theory.

He will investigate two areas of uncertainty: error in precipitation rates, and understanding how producers and consumers share the burden of climate change.

Working with Patrick Walsh, also of Landcare Research, Dr Bell will use two methods from econometrics – instrumental variables (IV) and the mean group estimator (MGE) – to investigate the measurement uncertainty.

This programme will be the first application of these methods in the climate econometrics field, and the first to carefully investigate the empirical impact of precipitation on agricultural productivity.

Understanding the relative exposure of producers, retail consumers, and intermediaries to climate change is also a key consideration for New Zealand.

Dr Bell’s study will extend existing work to follow weather-induced milk price shocks through the different groups. These past price changes will allow better simulation of how climate change would impact New Zealand primary producers, processors, and final consumers, given the complex structure of the market.

Source: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

CRIs are collecting seeds in the race against myrtle rust

Pōhutukawa, mānuka, kānuka and other New Zealand seeds are being collected, grown, and tested for resilience to myrtle rust, a disease with the potential to wipe out entire native species and drastically change the country’s native landscape.

Myrtle rust attacks and can seriously affect plants in the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family, including pōhutukawa, mānuka, kānuka and rātā.

The fungal pathogen that causes myrtle rust is called Austropuccinia psidii. This fungus produces millions of small yellow-coloured spores that are easily wind-blown to new plants.

The pathogen was first found in Australia in 2010 and seven years later was identified in New Zealand. Since then it has spread quickly and has been reported on at least 600 properties.

An article by Suzette Howe, posted on the Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research website, says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has launched a full-scale attack to better understand the disease and limit its impact on NZ’s  Myrtaceae plants.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research is one of a team of institutes taking part in the research programme.  It will be working on the project closely with Plant & Food Research over the next two years.

“What we are trying to do is work out which species are going to be affected by myrtle rust, so to do that we are collecting seed from a whole range of Myrtaceae species, i.e. from the family that is going to be affected by myrtle rust,” says ,” says Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientist Dr Gary Houliston.

“They’ll be sent to Australia to a screening facility, where they will be challenged with myrtle rust to see what’s susceptible,” he says.

Plant & Food Research plant pathologist Grant Smith, another of the key researchers working on the project, has worked in Australia helping with their response to myrtle rust and now oversees the seed collecting in New Zealand.

“Right now, what we are trying to do is get enough science data so we can make some decisions in 18 months about how we can respond from a science perspective to myrtle rust in New Zealand – for example, do we have resistance in mānuka that we can exploit in a breeding programme?” he says.

“We are also selecting material to safeguard via germplasm collections or seed banking,” says Dr Smith.

Testing seed resilience to the disease will give researchers information around ‘seed lines’ in New Zealand provinces that show a lot of resilience.

Mānuka and kānuka seeds are the first species to be collected and sent to Australia to be tested. From there, over the next year researchers will collect pōhutakawa and rātā and coordinate with other groups like Scion who are also doing research into this.

“This phase is what I consider to be a ‘secure future options’ to ensure we have options available for decisions we have yet to make,” says Dr Smith.

“In Australia, species extinction across the natural range of the plants is now becoming apparent. Understanding what resistance we have in our native plants, and seed banking those plants now before things get too bad, is essential to ensure we have the plant species available for future options,” he said.

All seed sent to Australia will be destroyed at the end of the project. Extra seed collected during the project is stored in seed banks in New Zealand.

Source: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Minister encourages apiarists to provide bee health data

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor is urging the country’s beekeepers to complete a survey checking the health of the country’s bee stocks.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Colony Loss and Survival survey is an important part of the work the Government and beekeepers do together to understand bee health, losses and beekeeping practice.

Typically the surveys are completed by only a third of the apiculture sector of nearly 8000 registered beekeepers, who look after nearly 900,000 hives.

“A united sector builds resilience and can take action on the big issues such as hive overstocking rates, access to floral resources, queen bee performance, seasonal variability in climate and production, and pest and disease management,” O’Connor said.

“Working with the thriving mānuka honey industry, we recently introduced the science definition to protect the integrity of exports and I strongly believe there is more value to extract from our other native honeys. We need to work together to protect the long-term viability of the sector and get more from what we do now.”

The 2017 survey showed bee colony losses in New Zealand continue to be significantly lower than many other countries. Annual hive losses were reported at 9.84% overall.

But, O”Connor said

” … we need to monitor trends and collect as much information as possible to protect our bees.”

Registered beekeepers will receive the survey from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research in September.

Source:  Minister for Agriculture

Lincoln Hub is rebranded to become Blinc Innovation

The Lincoln Hub has been rebranded and moved on to the Lincoln University campus.

It is now called Blinc Innovation and occupies the former student space The Workshop, which has been converted into the Blinc Workshop.

The Hub was the innovation network and agri research precinct made up of five partners – Lincoln University, AgResearch, DairyNZ, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, and Plant and Food Research.

The new workshop is a co-working space which caters for start-up teams and small agri businesses, looking for a place to connect, permanent or semi-permanent desks, and space for meetings and workshops.

Blinc’s role is innovating and creating in harmony with nature, developing sustainable solutions, and leaving the planet in a better place tomorrow than today.

To do this it acts as a connector, helping grow an ecosystem across agrifood and technology to stimulate and land innovation, through networking, events, collective collaborations and research around a shared vision for the future for agrifood.

Source: Lincoln University