Government supports $27 million collaborative project aimed at boosting sustainable horticulture production

The heading on a statement from the office of the Minister of Agriculture was more than somewhat bemusing for those of us in the agscience sector.  It said: Govt backing horticulture to succeed.

But wasn’t horticulture already successful, thanks – at least in part – to good research?

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor acknowledged this – surely – when he said the horticulture sector has long been one of New Zealand’s export star performers.

But let’s not quibble.  The good news beneath the heading tells us the Government is backing a new $27 million project aimed at boosting sustainable horticulture production and New Zealand’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.

And it looks (fingers crossed) like scientists can expect a slice of the action.

The programme which Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced is called A Lighter Touch.

It is a collaboration between government and industry.

It is aimed at shifting the focus from traditional crop protection by carrying out research, understanding crop protection products, and integrating biological and ecological processes into food production in New Zealand.

Among the features:

  • MPI, through its Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund, is contributing $10.8 million and industry is contributing $16.2 million over the seven-year life of the project.
  • The project will help to overcome problems with achieving the necessary scale in the use of agro-ecological products, and the investment in capacity and infrastructure needed to commercialise biopesticides and biological control agents.
  • If successful, this project is expected to benefit New Zealand by:
      • Increasing investment in the horticulture, arable and wine sectors.
      • Enhancing the value of New Zealand’s reputation and brand.
      • Increasing the value of New Zealand’s horticultural, arable and wine exports.
      • Increasing the diversity of New Zealand’s agricultural production.
      • Introducing new technology and management know-how into New Zealand’s economy.
      • Maintaining the social licence to farm for New Zealand horticulture and arable cropping.

    Mr O’Connor said:

    “Our horticulture sector has long been one of New Zealand’s export star performers, contributing around $6 billion a year to our economy. During and post lockdown they’ve become a lifeline for a number of redeployed workers from industries such as tourism, forestry and hospitality.

    “Our growers and producers will play a critical role in our economic recovery. The Government knows this which is why in Budget 2020 we committed $38.5 million to help the sector seize further opportunities for future growth. This adds to that investment.”

    Mr O’Connor said A Lighter Touch aims to create new growing methods and crop protection measures that reduce chemical use, and spur greater production.

    “Our high-value overseas consumers want to know the story behind their food. They want greater assurances that the food and fibre they buy is produced in a sustainable way – and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.

    “We have a great story to tell because our growers are among the most efficient and sustainable in the world.  There is an opportunity for New Zealand to become the world’s preferred supplier of plant-based food products. This project will help us seize that opportunity, create more demand, generate higher export returns, and grow rural communities with new jobs.”

    Horticulture New Zealand Chief Executive Mike Chapman said the importance of biological methods and increasing production was reflected in the investment from the different sectors.

    “Our growers want to take greater care of the environment but there are only a few viable options for pest and disease control currently.

    “This is why this project is so critical. It will speed up development of agro-ecological crop protection techniques that are both environmentally sound and effective. We are excited by what this project will be able to deliver for the different sectors involved and New Zealand’s economy.”

    Foundation for Arable Research chief executive Alison Stewart said finding new effective, efficient and sustainable weed, pest, and disease management options was a priority for the arable industry.

    “We’re very pleased to be part of this programme. We will be focusing on the development of new agro-ecological crop protection systems for key arable crops, with development of a fully integrated crop protection programme for wheat being the first cab off the rank.”

    Bragato Research Institute Chief Executive MJ Loza said A Lighter Touch was in-line with the wine industry’s focus on operating more sustainably.

    “The pan-industry New Zealand Inc approach taken with this new project is important, given the national and global importance of reducing our environmental footprints.”

    Zespri’s Chief Innovation and Sustainability Officer Carol Ward said developing more sustainable crop protection practices was a key focus for Zespri.

    “Zespri has invested significantly in the research and the development of biopesticides and cultural control practices, and we are delighted to be involved in the new project and to work collaboratively with other industries on a mutual goal.”

    Mr O’Connor said the project will result in the horticulture, arable and wine industries working together in a way they never have before.

    The project would enable those sectors to achieve much more, and in much a shorter time, than if each worked alone.

    This was the sort of collaboration he hoped other sectors would embrace.

     Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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