Almonds – a new high-value nut for researchers to crack

The Ministry for Primary Industries is making no secret of its supporting a nutty idea.  It is investing $67,000 in a Plant and Food Research feasibility study to determine if almonds can be grown sustainably in Hawke’s Bay.

The project has backing from central and local government, alongside Picot Productions Limited, producers of the Pic’s brand nut spreads.

“We’re already supporting peanut growing trials in Northland – now it’s almonds’ turn,” says Steve Penno, Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) director of investment programmes. 

“The first step is to see whether we can successfully produce almonds with a low carbon footprint at scale and for a competitive price in New Zealand.”

MPI’s $67,000 investment in the $100,000 project is being made through the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund

Plant and Food Research business manager Declan Graham said the goal is to provide diversification opportunities for local dry stock farmers rather than trying to replicate the large-scale almond monocrop system of California. Continue reading

Regenerative agriculture research receives Government funding boost

The Government is investing in two new research projects to investigate the impacts of “regenerative farming” practices.

As NZIAHS members are aware, this is a contentious issue in science circles.  Questions have been raised about the definition of “regenerative” farming and growing and cautions sounded about the need for zealous champions of regenerative practices to base their enthusiasm on reliable New Zealand research data, not on something reported from countries with different conditions and farming methods.

Mr O’Connor announced the government is contributing $2.8 million to a $3.85 million five-year project with co-investment by Synlait Milk and Danone that aims to understand how to measure and manage soil health to boost environmental and economic performance on New Zealand farms.

The announcement on Sunday coincided with World Soil Day, which aimed to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, fighting soil salinization, increasing soil awareness and encouraging societies to improve soil health.

“We simply cannot take soil health for granted,” O”Connor said.

“It’s the basis of our food systems, and also New Zealand’s economic health.” Continue reading

Sowing the seeds for a regenerative horticultural partnership

Two of New Zealand’s largest horticultural businesses, T&G Global and Zespri, are teaming up with Plant & Food Research and other industry partners on a new project to research, develop, define, and promote sustainable and regenerative horticulture practices within the kiwifruit, apple and berry industries.

The project, which has the potential to be one of the most extensive horticultural research programmes in this country, is partially funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.

Phase one will involve an exploration of regenerative practices and market analysis with the aim of moving to a longer-term programme of research including scientific and market validation, along with the implementation of science and grower-backed practices in regenerative horticulture.

T&G Global’s chief executive, Gareth Edgecombe, says the project is cutting edge and hugely exciting for the industry.

Sustainable food production was at the heart of New Zealand’s horticultural sector, Mr Edgecombe said. Continue reading

Govt provides critical support for New Zealand’s budding researchers with fellowships and funding

Fellowships to attract and retain talented researchers in the early stages of their careers have been awarded to 30 New Zealanders, Associate Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today.

Ag/hort researchers who applied would be disappointed that this field of scientific work did not fare well among the awards, although AgScience doesn’t know how many applied.

Dr Rebecca Campbell (Plant & Food Research) won a fellowship for research entitled High resolution epidemiological models for plant disease prediction and risk management in Aotearoa New Zealand.

But none of the other projects that won fellowships deal with agricultural or horticultural work – or with the environmental  consequences of farming and growing food.

Environmental science was not overlooked.  The impact of the westerly wind belt on South Island water resources was one project favoured with an award.

Another climate-related project is entitled Using cosmogenic radionuclides and fission-track thermochronometry to benchmark human-enhanced erosion in a time of rapid climate change.

And fair to say, research entitled NZ electric vehicles: Eco-friendly now, how about in the future? might pass muster among the ag/hort set if tractors and other farm and orchard vehicles are included. Continue reading

Increasing the value of NZ macadamia nuts through nutrition and health claims

The High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge is funding a project to add to the sales value of New Zealand-grown macadamia nut products.

The available nutritional information for macadamias applies mainly to overseas varieties. Scientific evidence is also lacking as to why New Zealand macadamias differ in taste and size so profoundly from the same varieties grown in other countries.

Torere Macadamias Limited (TML) in Gisborne, with Plant & Food Research, have been awarded $43,220 over four months for a project that will identify and verify the distinctive qualities and nutritional value of New Zealand-grown macadamias. This knowledge should provide a sound basis on which to develop and validate innovative high-value products for future local and export markets.

TML’s research over many years has identified the best commercial dropping varieties suitable for the New Zealand climate. Staff of TML are all Māori, including family and trainee Orchard Managers from the Eastern Bay of Plenty, the East Coast and Gisborne. Continue reading

Trans-Tasman collaboration unlocks genetic secrets behind myrtle rust

In a trans-Tasman collaboration, scientists have sequenced the genome of Austropuccinia psidii, the fungus responsible for the disease myrtle rust, and have produced the world’s largest assembled fungal genome.

Their work was recently published in the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics

This  marks a first step towards revealing key genetic features of the disease threatening myrtle plants in both Australia and New Zealand.

“If you’re going to go after a pathogen, it is important to get some understanding of its genome,” says Grant Smith, a Principal Scientist at Plant & Food Research in New Zealand. Continue reading

Plant & Food Research refreshes its branding to provide a new look and a new perspective

Plant & Food Research – Rangahau Ahumāra Kai has announced that, from today, it will start to look and sound a bit different.

Roger Bourne, General Manager Customer & Brand, says

“We want to get into a really great conversation with our customers, our collaborators and consumers on how science can help shape a Smart Green Future for Aotearoa New Zealand and the world. Over recent years we’ve seen a huge leap in demand for our science from industry and we’ve invested significantly in the talent, technology and resources required to meet that expectation.

“We’ve also seen a really genuine new interest from wider society in the role of science in things that matter to them – areas like nutrition, sustainability, employment and social development. We feel it’s time to invest more in those conversations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need to have that kōrero (discussion). Right now, there’s an almost perfect fit between what motivates us and what Kiwis and consumers globally want – healthy food from the world’s most sustainable systems.

“We know our mahi (work) can help deliver for people, planet and profit– and we need to let more people know how.

“We’re refreshing our brand to help that conversation flow. In a busy world we know the logo, language, photography and design we use will help us connect better with more audiences. And we really believe that when used well, these elements can help tell an authentic story of our love of science, things that live and grow, food and sustainability.

“Over the coming months we’ll be bringing our vision of a Smart Green Future,Together to audiences in industry and in the wider community. We’re ambitious. We’re looking to show leadership on topics that matter, ensure science has a voice on the future, celebrate partnerships and open new doors and to attract amazing new collaborators and colleagues.

“We’re an Institute of 1000 people and by working with great partners who grow, fish, harvest and share food we touch the diets, lives and livelihoods of millions. By sharing these stories we’ll learn more about ‘what’s next’ for our Institute and how we can help create a better future.”

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Researchers tell how blackcurrants can improve your sporting performance thanks to the anthocyanins

News from Plant and Food Research – bringing the public up to date with the body of research into the health benefits of blackcurrants it is building – is teasingly headed: Could Consuming New Zealand Blackcurrants Be Enough To Earn An Olympic Medal?

It’s probably a bit late for your editor to consider limbering up (with the appropriate diet) for a crack at an Olympic medal.  But for younger readers…

Well, as Plant and Food Research reports:

The news is bright for the New Zealand blackcurrant industry, with a recent meta-analysis study showing that properties in Adaptive™ New Zealand blackcurrants can improve sports performance.

A meta-analysis conducted by scientists from the University of Auckland and Plant & Food Research, and just published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, has concluded that the unique balance of anthocyanins in Adaptive™ New Zealand blackcurrants clearly improve sports performance. Continue reading

Work on mānuka provides guidance on science with taonga species

Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium), a taonga (treasured) species and is included in the Waitangi Tribunal report on Māori rights over native flora and fauna, is the indigenous plant that contributes most to the New Zealand economy due to the value of mānuka honey.

The commercial value of mānuka and the rapid growth in the mānuka honey industry has resulted in significant scientific and commercial interest in the species.

Several years ago Plant & Food Research undertook to make the significant investment into sequencing the mānuka genome. This was intended to provide a resource that could be used in future projects on mānuka that would be undertaken in line with the Plant & Food Research policy that research on indigenous species must provide benefit to Māori.

Three Plant & Food Research senior scientists who have contributed as authors to papers in the New Zealand Journal of Crop & Horticultural Science special issue on mānuka have prepared a paper which offers a western science perspective on working with a taonga species and the lessons learned that can guide similar future projects.

One example is that Pākehā concepts of ownership would provide licence to use the mānuka plant chosen for the research, but the authors acknowledge that those tests of ownership would not adequately acknowledge Māori concepts of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over indigenous flora.

Based on their learning from this research, the authors discuss some considerations for best practice for future research on taonga species. This includes allowing research to be guided by Māori cultural values, concepts and practices from the outset.

This calls for early engagement with Māori in the co-design and co-management of research projects, including discussions around risks and benefits as well as prior agreement on the use, and discussion of the implications, of any new knowledge generated through the research.

As an example, genomics data generated from taonga species should not be open access, but (based on Māori consensus) should be stored in a dedicated long-term repository for genomic data of taonga species (such as Genomics Aotearoa).

Journal Reference:
Morgan ER, Perry NB, Chagné D, 2019  Science at the intersection of cultures – Māori, Pākehā and mānuka. New Zealand Journal of Crop & Horticultural  Science
Source:  Plant and Food Research

Important pollinators in Australian avocado, macadamia and mango crops

Insect diversity that includes both managed and unmanaged pollinators, such as bees, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths, is important for crop pollination and yields globally, Plant and Food Research says in a research update.

Ensuring wild and managed insects for pollination services relies on developing effective management strategies. This requires recognising which pollinators are most important for any given crop, time and location and which factors (such as weather, landscape features and farm management) influence the presence of pollinators.

Plant & Food Research scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of New England, surveyed flower-visiting insects on avocado, macadamia and mango crops in various locations in Australia. They measured how much pollen the insects were moving between flowers and the various landscape factors which may have influenced the populations of pollinators.

Three pollinator groups were found to be consistently important across the three crops – honey bees and two wild visitors (an Australian stingless bee [Tetragonula carbonaria.] and nose flies [Stomorhina discolor]). 

The findings demonstrate the potential for identifying shared pollinators that provide services across multiple crops to assist in developing management strategies focussed on their needs. It also highlights the need for management strategies that are region-specific and include both non-bee and co-flowering crop vegetation. 

Journal Reference

Willcox BK, Howlett BG, Robson AJ, Cutting B, Evans L, Jesson L, Kirkland L, Jean-Meyzonnier M, Potdevin V, Saunders ME, Radar R 2019  Evaluating the taxa that provide shared pollination services across multiple crops and regions. Scientific Reports HERE.

Source:  Plant and Food Research