Posts Tagged ‘Plant & Food Research’

Climate model gets the measure of myrtle rust’s behaviour under NZ conditions

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Rob Beresford spent the month of June poring through research articles, crunching data and creating mathematical formula to better gauge what myrtle rust may mean for New Zealand.

The end result was the Myrtle Rust Risk Model, specifically designed to understand and predict how myrtle rust will behave under New Zealand conditions.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is using it to help inform its responses, such as targeted surveillance for the disease.

“The model has three key attributes,” says Dr Beresford.

“It warns when the weather is suitable for any spores in the air to infect susceptible plants; it predicts the time from when infection occurs to when rust symptoms may appear; and it assess the suitability of conditions for spores to be produced from infected plants that are showing symptoms.”

With no history of myrtle rust in New Zealand until its arrival in May, developing the model was not easy because of a large number of unknowns.

Dr Beresford’s first step was to dig deep into scientific literature and record observations from countries where the disease is already established, such as Brazil, the US (Hawaii) and Australia.

“Although the overseas research is tremendously useful, you can’t assume that myrtle rust will behave in New Zealand in ways observed in other countries with similar climates,” says Dr Beresford.

“New Zealand has its own seasonal weather patterns. Moreover, the genetic differences between plant species in the myrtle family could influence susceptibility, just as there can be differences in the strains of the rust pathogen itself. So, it’s very complex.

“All these things have to be calculated and factored in to the model, with mathematical parameters set to represent things such as plant susceptibility, temperature range and humidity.

“Essential to doing this well is having a good understanding of the biology of the disease and host plant species.”

The risk model is distinctive in simulating the biology of the disease at a fine scale of time and space. Additionally, thanks to NIWA’s sophisticated weather analysis and prediction maps in combination with its climate-data mapping skills, the NIWA data can be factored into the model hourly, allowing for day-to-day measurability and reporting.

This model can work in conjunction with other climate models developed for myrtle rust that take a more general, broad-brush climate matching approach or rely on long-term weather data.

“The next step to further refine the model is to do more in-depth research into host plant susceptibility,” says Dr Beresford. “This means we can tweak the model from reporting relative risk to something even more definitive.”

Funding for the development of the model came from the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Plant & Food Research is currently collaborating with NIWA on mapping the risk of myrtle rust infection in different regions.

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IFP apples compare favourably with organic crops in biodiversity study

Dr Louise Malone has led a Plant & Food Research study comparing the biodiversity of modern, best-practice commercial apple orchards with organic orchards.

The survey of plants and 210,000 insects caught in traps in 15 Hawke’s Bay orchards found orchards managed using the Integrated Fruit Production system, or IFP, had similar or even slightly better biodiversity index scores than the organic orchards.

Libby Burgess, one of the study authors, says international markets are increasingly interested in the ecological impact of food production.

“They want to know how we grow crops, as well as what we produce,” she says.

Working in partnership with the grower organisation, New Zealand Apples & Pears Inc., scientists and growers developed the IFP system specifically to find ways to control pests that would have the lowest impact on the environment. Once proven in trials it was rapidly adopted in commercial apple orchards in the late 1990s.

A range of practices, such as monitoring pest numbers with pheromone traps, minimised the use of chemicals. That made it possible to make the best use of what is now the main weapon against pest species: carefully-vetted introduced natural enemies, or biological control agents.

Because IFP is now a mature system the Plant & Food Research team decided it was time to have another look at the impact it was having on plants and insects, and to compare IFP orchards’ biodiversity directly with organic orchards.

They found insect species sometimes differed between the IFP and organic orchards but every orchard had ample species to carry out ecological functions such as nutrient cycling and pest control.

Dr Malone says the outstanding feature in the results was that the traps collected around 10 times more Froggatt’s apple leafhoppers in organic orchards than in the IFP orchards. The sap-sucking leafhopper Edwardsiana froggatti is a serious pest, causing leaf damage and affecting bud and fruit development. Apart from this result, the survey showed undetectable differences in pests across orchard types.

“More importantly perhaps, there were no differences in the abundance and diversity of the key natural enemies that help to keep apple pests in check,” Dr Malone says. “This result shows IFP is protecting those beneficial species as intended.”

Ms Burgess says another key result satisfied another market priority.

“We were surprised and pleased to see that native or endemic species made up around 40% of the total in all orchard types,” she says. “That’s what overseas markets want to see – that biodiversity and especially local flora and fauna are protected – and that is what we’ve got.”

Dr Malone says the survey provides proof that IFP works.

“IFP works – and probably even better than we had hoped. The fauna in IFP orchards is just as rich as it is in organic orchards and that’s great news for the way we operate our orchards and for our brand overseas.”

New Zealand Apples & Pears technical manager Tim Herman is delighted to see the proof that biodiversity in IFP orchards is on a par with organic orchards.

“This data shows that what we are doing in IFP matches that in our organic production systems and helps us underline the environmental credentials of IFP in our export markets,” he says. “Export markets continue to challenge us to do better and minimise our environmental footprint. This demonstrates that we are meeting their expectations.”

The study is published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.

Scientist honoured for outstanding contribution to NZ’s pipfruit industry

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.

Cracking manuka’s genetic code may mitigate the effects of myrtle rust

A nationwide science project that sequenced the manuka genome and is now exploring its genetic diversity may be instrumental in protecting the indigenous plant from the fungal disease myrtle rust.

Using state-of-the-art genome sequencing technologies, Plant & Food Research scientists mapped manuka’s genetic blueprint in 2015 and shared the information with tangata whenua and the New Zealand research community.

The research focus has since moved to using bioinformatic techniques to acquire a detailed understanding of the unique attributes of manuka’s genetic stocks – the data have been gleaned from around 1000 samples of manuka leaf collected nationwide in a collaboration with Landcare Research, the University of Waikato and key Maori partners.

The information generated is providing important scientific insights concerning the distribution and genetic diversity within and between manuka populations in New Zealand.

“A key objective of the project has always been to understand how genetic material is exchanged between manuka populations by pollen and seed dispersal to help whānau and hapū, and the honey industry, to develop unique stories around provenance, and help ensure genetic variation for conservation purposes,” says Plant & Food Research Science Group Leader Dr David Chagné.

“With the arrival of myrtle rust on the New Zealand mainland, we soon realised the need for an additional and more specific conservation application for the project.

“While it’s not clear just what effect myrtle rust will have on mānuka under New Zealand conditions, we should expect differences in susceptibility and resistance across the mānuka populations.

“By using the latest technologies for DNA sequencing and new methodologies for bioinformatic data analysis we can determine which parts of the genome are associated with tolerance.

“This will help us to better predict the potential damage from myrtle rust and determine how fast the various mānuka populations will respond to the disease.

“The data will assist with guiding research priorities for maintaining and protecting diversity in mānuka,” says Dr Chagné.

Research results from the project are expected to be released between June and August this year.

The Maori organisations assisting with stakeholder engagement and commercial support in the project are Ngati Porou Miere, Tuhoe Tuawhenua Trust, Atihau-Whanganui, Taitokerau Miere and Tai Tokerau Honey. The project is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Big future predicted for bright-skinned White Beauty potato

A new bright-skinned potato, called White Beauty, has been produced from a 15-year breeding programme at Plant & Food Research. It is a cross between the disease-resistant Summer Delight potato and the old multipurpose Australian favourite Coliban.

The result is a bright, versatile potato described as extremely high-yielding.

“White Beauty comes with a lot of promise,” says Plant & Food Research crop scientist John Anderson.

“Not only is it showing itself to be an excellent all-round cooking potato, it has a very nice taste, which we think will prove a real challenge to other potato cultivars in the market.”

White Beauty has a lower sugar and higher dry matter content than many other potatoes in the fresh market potato range, such as Nadine, the most widely consumed white potato. This means it makes a good mash and is great for roasting, as well as being delicious boiled whole, making it a more versatile potato for consumers.

Although marketed as White Beauty, the cultivar name is”Crop39″ and is licensed to Morgan Laurenson Ltd.

The company believes the impressive characteristics of the new cultivar should translate well into wide distribution.

“White Beauty is set to become a serious market contender in the washed and brushed table potato range,” says Morgan Laurenson Managing Director Bill Foster. “From the perspective of both the grower and the consumer, we believe White Beauty has the potential to be a hit.

“The characteristics of White Beauty also bode well for exploring new export opportunities,” says Mr Foster.

Although White Beauty has been bred specifically for New Zealand conditions, it is being evaluated in both Australia and the USA.

It will be commercially available to growers through Morgan Laurenson Ltd from 2017.

New Govt funding for pest and disease research to send apples to Asia

New research funding will support the pipfruit industry in opening the door for apple exports in new high-value Asian markets.

The $4.35 million Apple Futures II programme, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment and leveraged by pipfruit industry investment, will support the development of new tools to control pests and diseases in the orchard and new systems to remove insects during postharvest.

The programme will build on a relationship spanning more than 20 years between the pipfruit sector and Plant & Food Research in developing integrated pest management programmes for pipfruit growers, securing access to key markets for New Zealand’s pipfruit exports.

“Access to new high-value markets is a priority for New Zealand’s pipfruit sector if we are to realise our goal of $1 billion of exports by 2022,” says Alan Pollard, CEO of Pipfruit New Zealand.

“There are increasingly stringent phytosanitary requirements in these markets, as well as a growing desire by consumers for reduced pesticide use. This funding will allow us to develop new tools and technologies that ensure we can deliver shipments that are free from pests and diseases and with no chemical residues on fruit, maintaining New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of premium produce.”

Dr Bruce Campbell, COO of Plant & Food Research, said:

 “By understanding the orchard system – the conditions under which diseases develop, when insect pest populations might pose greatest risk and how other organisms in the environment can contribute to controlling these – we have been able to put in place systems that allow growers to deliver fruit that meets the most stringent requirements. This new funding will allow us to ensure that New Zealand apple and pear growers can access key markets in which their fruit commands a premium price.”

New Zealand pipfruit generates approximately $500 million per year in exports, about a third of this from Asian markets.

It is estimated that the growing Asian market will, by 2022, generate close to $500 million annually on its own, representing about 50% of New Zealand’s pipfruit exports.

More information on the current pipfruit integrated pest management programme, Apple Futures, can be found at plantandfood.co.nz/growingfutures.

 

 

 

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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