Week in Review

In Aotearoa, Zespri has reported a reduced kiwifruit crop, anticipating 136 million trays for export this season, down on last season’s 171 million trays. The hardest hit variety is Green kiwifruit, with one of the lowest expected volumes in the past 20 years (around 42 million trays, down from 61 million in 2022). Looking ahead to the 2024 season, significantly more volume is expected, as growers recover from weather associated reduced yields and as new licenced SunGold kiwifruit hectares come into maturity. To cope with future volume increases, packhouses are looking to automate packing lines. A study by the industry suggested it would cost $800 million for infrastructure to fully automate post-harvest operations, creating a future tension on capital use, as the industry also needs to invest in cool storage capacity for the increasing yields. In red meat news, ANZCO Foods reported a net profit of nearly double on their last financial year, from $75 million in 2021, to $147.7 million in 2022, largely due to strong global demand for premium beef and lamb. For vegetable growers recovering from extreme weather earlier this year, a further challenge has emerged - consumer demand in stores has dropped. Calvin Gedye, chair of the Gisborne Growers Association believes this is partly due to publicity about high vegetable prices creating consumer resistance to buy fresh produce, with more shoppers opting for frozen (often imported) vegetables.

Internationally, researchers from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences are close to releasing rapeseed protein for human consumption. Rapeseed plants have until now only been used for oil and animal feed, due to bitter glucosinolates making it inedible as a direct human food source. The researchers were able to remove these substances and thus the bitter taste, with a technology called “transport engineering”, opening opportunities for this new protein source and full use of rapeseed. In the United Kingdom, a soil analysis application, called Soil Health Scorecard (SHSC) is undertaking trials across the supply chain, with support from ASDA, Tesco and McCain Foods. SHSC is the first of its kind, offering an open access, online, data driven solution to monitor and improve soils in the UK using AI analytics to change soil health management. Individual growers will be able to measure the success of specific management practices, while being offered tailored advice. 

Spotlight Stories

Research & Development Spotlight


How banana waste upcycling is kick-starting Uganda’s circular economy [12 May, World Economic Forum]

Uganda, the world's second-largest producer and consumer of bananas, is turning its banana waste issue into a valuable economic and environmental opportunity. With 75% of Uganda's population relying on bananas as a staple food, tons of banana waste ends up in landfills. However, innovative industries and technologies are emerging in Uganda to upcycle banana waste. Community-based start-ups like TEXFAD work with smallholder banana farmers to extract fibres from banana stems for sustainable textiles, producing banana fibre carpets, biodegradable hair extensions, vegan leather, and cotton-like textiles. By-products of the banana fibre production process are carbonised and turned into charcoal briquettes which are smoke-free and can offer 4-6 hours of clean energy These initiatives are both reducing waste and providing employment opportunities, particularly for the country's youth. By adopting a circular economy approach, Uganda aims to become a centre of excellence for eco-friendly, sustainable product production in Africa. 

Tags: Research & Development 

Horticulture Spotlight


Country's largest commercial-scale agave grower gives public first taste of Australia's answer to tequila [13 May, ABC News]

Australia's agave industry has achieved a significant milestone, with Top Shelf International (TSI), an Australian spirits company, unveiling the first trial run of its agave spirit (in Mexico the agave plant is used to create tequila). It has taken three years to establish their agave farm, and this release of the first trial run marks a crucial step towards establishing a domestic agave spirit industry in the country. Commercial-scale production is expected by the end of this year, with plans to use a world-first agave mechanical harvester. The University of Adelaide collaborated with TSI to establish the north Queensland farm to provide a blueprint for producing agave commercially. Professor of plant science, Rachel Burton, hopes the Australian agave industry will see rapid growth over the next few years as more producers get on board, and alternative uses for the plant are explored, such as carbon-neutral products, fuel, construction material, packaging, and paper.

Tags: Horticulture 

Headline Stories

Olive oil to get more expensive in NZ thanks to Mediterranean drought [15 May, Stuff]

Olive oil prices are expected to rise globally due to a poor season in the Mediterranean, resulting in the highest prices in 26 years. Heat and drought in the region, particularly in Spain, led to a 50% decrease in the olive harvest. Importing companies will face increased costs for olive oil and domestic New Zealand producers (10% of total consumption) may also experience challenges locally as cyclones and wet weather have affected some growing areas. The price consumers will have to pay is also compounded by rising prices of sunflower oil due to the conflict in Ukraine. 

Tags: Horticulture 

Researchers take a first step toward decoupling livestock feed from the land [12 May, Anthropocene]

Researchers have developed a method to convert greenhouse gas emissions into an ingredient that can be used for livestock feed, potentially reducing the need for extensive farmland. This innovative approach, known as "synthetic nutrition," aims to artificially produce essential nutrients with minimal environmental footprint. The process utilises carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial waste, breaking it down into building blocks to create useful ingredients. By combining CO2 with renewable hydrogen and employing synthetic enzymes, the researchers successfully produced an amino acid called L-alanine, which is crucial for making proteins. While the process is still in its early stages, it holds promise for addressing the increasing demand for animal protein while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. 

Tags: Research & Development

Remote sensing technology used to detect myrtle rust days before signs of infection [16 May, RNZ]

New research by Crown Research Institute, Scion, has shown that remote sensing technology could help detect myrtle rust in nursery plants days before the plants show signs of infection. The disease, which was first detected in New Zealand in 2017, affects natives like pōhutakawa, mānuka and rātā as well as commercial species like feijoa and eucalyptus. The disease causes deformation in leaves, twig dieback and can cause infected trees to die. The research used high-precision equipment to detect myrtle rust infection by sensing differences in leaf temperature and light wavelengths in infected apple trees. While the technology requires further testing on different species, the team aims to develop field-based methods using drones to detect myrtle rust infections rapidly and remotely. The research offers hope for minimising damage to vulnerable plant species and landscapes affected by myrtle rust. 

Tags: Horticulture 

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