Biopesticides a “massive opportunity” for NZ kiwifruit industry

As consumer demand for residue-free produce rises, New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry would benefit from fast-tracking its shift towards biopesticides, a University of Auckland researcher says.

Through her internship at Plant & Food Research, Madeleine Trusewich determined that shifting sooner rather than later to biocontrol “would be a massive opportunity for New Zealand”, particularly for kiwifruit, the country’s largest single horticultural export by volume and value.

Supermarket chains in Britain and Europe are increasingly setting residue limits and banning produce exposed to certain pesticides.

Against this backdrop, Kiwifruit exporter Zespri has been working with Plant & Food Research, AgResearch and the Bio-Protection Research Centre to develop and promote “next generation” biopesticides – pest and disease control products based on natural biological agents, including fungi, bacteria, yeast and plant oils.  Zespri already restricts the use of pesticides to comply with or do better than EU limits.

But despite significant health and environmental benefits, the uptake of biopesticides has remained low in the kiwifruit industry, in line with global trends.

To find out why, Madeleine Trusewich analysed existing data, observed the industry through her internship at Plant & Food Research, and carried out in-depth interviews with orchardists, suppliers, scientists, agro-chemical company staff and others in the industry.

“I found widespread negative, but inaccurate, preconceptions about biocontrol – that it is ‘niche’ or ‘fringe’ and unproven, that it doesn’t work as well as chemicals, and that it’s more expensive and labour intensive,” says Ms Trusewich.

She did the research as part of a Master of Bioscience Enterprise, a programme jointly delivered by the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Sciences, the Business School and the Faculty of Law to teach students with a science background how to understand, protect and exploit the value of research.

“Generally, biopesticides are more expensive and they don’t visibly produce a fast result because they work by enhancing the vitality of the soil or the plants’ natural resilience to pests and disease,” Ms Trusewich says.

“But you can achieve just as good efficacy if you use biopesticides in conjunction with other biocontrol methods, like keeping tidy weed strips, monitoring for pests and diseases, and factoring in the effect of weather and other conditions.”

All Zespri fruit is required to be produced in line with the Zespri KiwiGreen Integrated Pest Management programme, which Zespri says ensures that pests and disease are controlled in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Biopesticides are one element of this programme, but are not currently widely used.

Ms Trusewich also analysed growers’ attitudes to change.

“Overall, they’re happy with the status quo, but there is a small group of more innovative orchardists, especially organic growers, who are looking for alternative ways of doing things.”

She says kiwifruit growers are the ultimate source of knowledge when it comes to pest and disease control and they have a crucial role to play in the co-creation of biopesticides.

“The industry should foster a positive attitude towards change and encourage, inspire, and incentivise growers to experiment with biopesticides. The regulatory environment is fast-moving, and the horticultural industry is racing to replace products that have been banned, product by product – that’s a slow shift. Big global chemical companies are starting to move into biocontrol now because they’re seeing a market opportunity,” she says.

“One of the scientists interviewed commented that these companies will probably come in and buy the pipeline of products New Zealand has developed.

“Shifting sooner rather than later to biocontrol is a massive opportunity for New Zealand. The industry’s response to Psa demonstrated their strength in uniting for a common cause, so we can be confident in its capacity to respond to this inevitable shift.”

Ms Trusewich’s full report is available online HERE.

Source:  Auckland University 

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Understanding MYBs and how they generate ‘wow factors’ in fruits and vegetables

Novelty and health benefits play a major role in influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions and are often controlled in the plant by a family of proteins called MYBs. Understanding how these work could result in new fruits and vegetables on the supermarket shelves, Plant & Food Research says in a press release today.

Studies have found that changing, or selecting for changes, in the activity of a single family of genetic controls, called MYB transcription factors, enhances key traits of fruits and vegetables such as appearance, flavour, texture and nutritional content.

For example, in many fruiting plants these controls maintain colour compounds, which have been associated with health benefits for humans, in the skin of the fruit and low concentrations in the large volume of flesh. By changing or selecting for changes in the activity of these transcription factors, the plant could produce more of these healthy compounds throughout the fruit.

In a cover story titled “MYBs drive novel consumer traits in fruits in vegetables” published in the August 2018 issue of academic journal Trends in Plant Science, Plant & Food Research scientists Professor Andrew Allan and Dr Richard Espley review plant MYB transcription factors that are associated with the development, hormone signalling, metabolite biosynthesis and pigmentation of plants.

“Studies have shown that pigments such as anthocyanins and carotenoids are thought to offer health and dietary benefits. Changes in key MYB transcription factors could turn the colourless flesh of certain fruits into one with colour,” Professor Allan says.

“It could significantly increase the content of pigments per fruit serving, resulting in a possible step change in health benefits.”

MYBs are also involved in taste and flavour via aroma, astringency and piquancy, as well as affecting the texture of the flesh and hair formation on the skin.

Understanding the regulation of MYB transcription factors facilitates the breeding and production of completely new categories of fruits and vegetables with desirable consumer traits. These added potential health benefits, more attractive appearance, better flavour, better texture, better storage and more convenience will encourage the purchase and consumption of plant products rather than heavily-processed synthetic food, for people looking for a longer, healthier life whilst benefiting the environment.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Conference: Science is the key to plant protein success

An upcoming food technology conference in Auckland on alternative proteins for food production will debate whether it’s a market challenge or a massive new opportunity for local producers. Science leaders say the changing global consumer trends bring a huge commercial opportunity for New Zealand agriculture.

New Zealand has strength in protein isolation and manufacturing technologies developed through our dairy industry, says Jocelyn Eason, General Manager Science, Food Innovation at Plant & Food Research*.

These technologies provide a solid base for further process developments of plant proteins,” says Eason, one of the key science speakers at the Innovatek “ProteinTECH” in Auckland on 24 July.

Highlights* from the Plant & Food Research “plant based foods” report include:

• Plant variety rights offer intellectual property rights opportunities for New Zealand developers;
• New production methods and locally developed innovations can ensure sustainability;
• Local technical and science skills are key to scaling up plant protein extraction;
• Local plant crops have significant potential as sources of high quality plant protein;
• Combined industry and research expertise can develop premium food offerings.

The mainstream media has focused on popular food products like Sunfed Food’s chicken-less chicken and ‘Impossible’ plant-based burgers, where a meat-like meal is provided with plant-based products.  But there is much more to the global market for food based on plant proteins.

The back story, says ProteinTECH director John Stulen, is there are some very experienced teams with research and science experience, developing commercial processes. They are set to capitalise on the new-found popularity and growing market acceptance for sustainable plant-based foods and food ingredients.

“Our conference includes a wide range of people with technical, market and research experience. We are pleased with the quality of our delegates to date; it’s a very senior level group of people from across agriculture including senior management, technical, science and research. It’s proving very popular,” Stulen says.

Innovatek’s ProteinTECH Conference brings together leaders in primary industries from the development and research fields alongside industry analysts, financiers and key accounting/consulting firms.

To register go HERE. 

The conference will be held at the Novotel Auckland Airport Hotel on July 24.

* Plant & Food Research Report: Opportunities in plant based foods – PROTEIN (May 2018)

Source: Innovatek 

Plant & Food data show the value of NZ horticulture climbs to $8.8 billion

New Zealand horticulture had another record-breaking year in 2017, when it was valued at $8.8 billion, up $100 million from 2016, and exported produce valued close to $5.12 billion, up $14 million.

According to the latest Fresh Facts, an industry annual published by Plant & Food Research, horticultural produce accounted for 10.3% of New Zealand’s merchandise export income in the year to June 2017.

The growth was driven by increases in the export values of fresh and processed fruit (excluding wine), from $2.78 billion to $2.82 billion, and fresh and processed vegetables, from $0.61 billion to 0.62 billion.

Kiwifruit continued to be the nation’s top horticultural export at $1.66 billion, accounting for 33% of the total export value. It was followed by wine at $1.54 billion, 30% of the total export value.

New Zealand horticultural produce was exported to 128 countries, with five markets—Australia, Continental Europe, the USA, Japan and China—taking up more than two-thirds of the total exports. Exports to Asia reached $1.95 billion, twice as much as any other continent/region.

“The success of New Zealand horticulture is built on its well-earned reputation of delivering high quality and premium products to the overseas markets,” says David Hughes, chief executive of Plant & Food Research.

“The horticultural industry must keep up the quality and innovate to offer new products that meet international market needs in order to secure our position.

“Adopting new technologies and best practices to minimise environmental and social impact of the production process will further strengthen our clean, green image in the global marketplace.”

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand, said his organisation is confident the industry will meet the $10 billion by 2020 target “as long as we  are  committed to listening to local and overseas consumers and offering products they want and desire.”

To view the latest issue of Fresh Facts and all previous issues, visit www.FreshFacts.co.nz

Key facts 

  • Produce from the New Zealand horticultural sector exceeded $8.8 billion in the year to 30 June 2017.
  • The total value of horticultural exports was $5.12 billion in 2017, an increase of 91% ($2.7 billion) from 2007.
  • New Zealand’s biggest horticultural export was kiwifruit, worth $1.66 billion. Other key exports were wine ($1.54 billion), apples ($691 million), and avocado ($147.5 million).
  • Avocado export demonstrated significant growth from $82 million in 2016 to $147 million in 2017, likely in part to the biennial nature of avocado production. In 2015 avocado export was valued at $115 million.
  • Exports to five markets: Australia, Continental Europe, the USA, Japan and China accounted for almost $3.5 billion and 67.7% of the total exports.
  • The diversity of horticultural exports is apparent in the 22 categories exported to Asia, each between $5 million and over $1 billion, and 13 categories to Australia, each between $7 million and over $440 million (fob) value.
  • More than $200 million worth of natural honey was exported to Asia and Australia.
  • Source: Plant & Food Research 

    NZ school children discover the power of mānuka in quest for weed killer

     

    Schools and pupils from all over New Zealand are working with the University of Otago and Plant & Food Research to discover what secrets are locked within the wide variety of mānuka around the country.

    They are exploring whether their local mānuka plants contain enough of a chemical  called grandiflorone to kill weeds, and whether the grandiflorone levels differ in mānuka growing in different parts of New Zealand.

    This could result in the native plant’s leaf chemistry providing a natural weed killer.

    The nectar from mānuka produces high-value mānuka honey, the basis of a boom in bee keeping around natural mānuka stands and extensive new plantings.

    The leaf chemistry could provide an additional valuable product and may be important for the growth of this native plant.

    Scientists Elaine Burgess, from Plant & Food Research, and Dr Dave Warren, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago, are leading the project which has been supported by the Government’s “Unlocking Curious Minds” fund.

    “Pupils collect foliage from their local mānuka, they then prepare a sample voucher, and extracts are made to test for herbicidal (weed killer) activity in a lettuce seedling assay,” Elaine says.

    “They then send us sample extracts to analyse in our Plant & Food Research labs in Dunedin.”

    Results are being uploaded to the database NatureWatchNZ to enable schools to compare the variations within mānuka in their own region, plus the differences around wider New Zealand.

     The project is already providing new scientific knowledge.

    “Students at Musselburgh School in Dunedin have helped us discover quite big chemical differences in varieties of mānuka in the local area, so it’s a surprise to learn mānuka from a particular region will not necessarily have the same levels of grandiflorone,” explains Dr Warren.

    A crucial aspect of the research is testing whether extracts from various mānuka plants stop lettuce seeds from growing.  Initial results show New Zealand mānuka are generally less potent than a related Australian species.

    The focus now is to spread the hands-on testing kits around New Zealand to see if there is a mānuka variation here equal to, if not better than, the Australian plant.

    “We’ve been very excited by the research so far, and look forward to the kits being circulated to places like the East Cape where we know there are significant amounts of mānuka,” Elaine Burgess says.

    So far around 30 schools have been sent the kits, which include all the equipment and instructions necessary for the students to conduct the scientific investigations themselves.

    Testing is spread over approximately two weeks, including collecting local mānuka, drying and pressing botanical voucher specimens, and extracting and testing on lettuce seeds.

    “This is citizen science in action. We want students to not only gain new skills from conducting the experiments themselves, but also to learn about the nature of science, of testing, of researching and of coming to robust scientific conclusions,” Dr Warren says.

    Results from the first wave of testing are being collated at Plant & Food Research in Dunedin while the next bundle of kits are being distributed to more schools around New Zealand.

    The project is expected to continue for several years, dependent on further funding for this community science initiative.

    Source: University of Otago

    Fruitless sex is collapsing codling moth populations

    A pilot programme to collapse the population of one of New Zealand’s most harmful apple pests, the codling moth, has produced spectacular results, Plant & Food Research reports.

    Each week thousands of sterile codling moths are being released into Central Hawke’s Bay apple orchards to mate with the local population. Critically, no progeny are produced from these relationships, although the sterile moths have the same drive to mate.

    By overwhelming the local codling moth population with the sterile moths, imported from a production facility in Canada, the wild moth populations have collapsed.

    Of particular importance to the programme is the method for releasing the sterile insects. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), following GPS coordinates, is fitted with special pods that release 20,000 sterile moths over 100 hectares of orchard during a flight of just 10 minutes.

    These releases mean there may be up to 200 sterile moths for every fertile moth present in the treated orchards.

    “We’ve seen dramatic results across the 400 hectares of Central Hawke’s Bay orchards treated with these sterile moths, up to 98% reduction of the wild moth populations,” says Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Jim Walker.

    “Within two seasons we expect the codling moth population will be eliminated from these orchards.”

    Plant & Food Research Science Group Leader Professor Max Suckling says this organically accepted technique can help eradicate a major pest for apple growers, particularly when used in combination with other mating disruption techniques that many growers already use.

    Tim Herman, Technical Manager of New Zealand Apples & Pears, says the New Zealand apple and pear industry is always looking for new and innovative ways to control codling moth to reduce the use of insecticides.

    “We already produce fruit with very low residues, but this research will add to our already sustainable programme of codling moth control and help maintain our ranking as the most competitive apple and pear industry in the world.”

    It is believed that the same method has the potential to prove effective for eradicating other insect pests, such as Queensland fruit fly, if the species became established in New Zealand.

    Click HERE to see a video of the UAV in action

    Source: Plant & Food Research

    Maori company teams up with Crown to breed unique berries for global markets

    A joint venture company has been established to breed and develop new unique berry varieties to be marketed exclusively by a Māori-owned firm, Miro Limited Partnership (Miro).

    Government-owned Plant & Food Research and Miro signed a 50:50 joint venture agreement today at an event hosted by Ngati Haua at the iwi’s Rukumoana Marae in Morrinsville.

    The agreement provides the new company with access to Plant & Food Research berry genetics for the development of proprietary new varieties. The joint venture partners will create a breeding programme for new high-value berry varieties.

    Miro will grow, market and sell the berries in New Zealand and globally with support from BerryCo NZ Limited.

    The joint venture is a milestone in horticultural entrepreneur Steve Saunders’ vision for Miro, to create a step-change in both the New Zealand berry industry and the regional Māori economy for current and future generations.

    Miro chair Rukumoana Schaafhausen said Miro is owned by over 20 Māori trusts, iwi and entities from the top of the north to the top of the South Island, from the East Coast to Taranaki.

    “We came together because we wanted jobs for our people, higher returns on our land, and to own IP and a global business that would secure a future for our mokopuna. We’re so excited about the opportunities ahead of us and we would love for more Māori landowners to join in.

    “In simple terms, Miro is aiming to build a business every bit as successful as Zespri. It represents a high-value, market-led, vertically integrated berry export business. There’s no reason why berries can’t be the next billion dollar New Zealand horticulture industry, and we’re proud to partner with Plant & Food Research to create that future.”

    Plant & Food Research chief executive David Hughes says the joint venture is aligned with the science company’s mandate to use research innovation to add value to fruit, vegetable, crop and food products and their industries.

    “In Miro we have a partner with global ambitions matched by scale and capability in New Zealand,” said David Hughes.

    He expects the deal to open up fresh innovation challenges for the Crown research institute’s scientists and described it as a welcome addition to its diverse range of commercial activity.

    Source: Plant & Food Research.