What we're working on
Here are some examples of work that is making Aotearoa Fit for a Better World.
Bumblebees for life
Bumblebees are crucial for their pollination of produce, such as tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. They are generally used in glasshouses and on covered crops, as bumblebees tend to travel only about 200 metres from their hive and don’t mind enclosed spaces, as opposed to honey bees that tend to roam further afield to find their pollen and nectar sources.
The downside is, the queen of a commercial bumblebee hive lives for about 10 weeks and the hive winds down once the queen dies.
Zonda Beneficials Ltd is researching how to keep bumblebee hives pollinating for longer, by using a pheromone that mimics one excreted by the queen bumblebee. It is part of a wider R&D programme aiming to contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the horticulture sector. MPI is contributing $160,000 towards the $400,000 project through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.
Turning kiwifruit into gold
Innovation and the pursuit of excellence underpins a key goal of Fit For a Better World – and Otama Marere is right up there.
Otama Marere was one of three finalists in the MPI-supported Ahuwhenua Trophy competition in 2020 for innovation and excellence in Māori farming.
The kiwifruit orchard development began in the 1980s on privately owned land near Paengaroa and has since diversified into gold kiwifruit, organic production and lately, Gem avocado planting. Along with the wetland planting, the orchard development is a showplace of Māori horticulture, including hapu employment, pest and disease management and conversion to organics.
Going nuts over this
New Zealand imported $58 million of nuts in 2019, a large proportion being peanuts. Researchers believe that, in time, most of the domestic demand for peanuts can be met with locally grown product.
A chance conversation between two old mates - Plant and Food Research science business manager Declan Graham and Pic’s Peanut Butter general manager Stuart MacIntosh - has morphed into a project in Kaipara, Northland to determine the feasibility of growing peanuts commercially. They are keen for a win-win that they might well celebrate with a peanut butter sandwich.
The $91,320 project is led by Picot Productions, with MPI contributing more than $59,000 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund. Research expertise is being provided by Plant & Food Research.
Opportunity does grow here
Many growers throughout New Zealand are facing labour shortages, with the Covid-19 border closure limiting hiring of their usual experienced RSE workers, or casual backpackers usually employed while here on visitor visas. Yet the primary sector offers golden opportunities for seasonal jobs and permanent career roles, particularly for New Zealand residents keen to relocate and re-train for a change of work direction, as well as for the lifestyle.
In response to the shortages – and to build on a Fit For a Better World goal of boosting inclusiveness – MPI created the Opportunity Grows Here website where people can find out more about the careers, training and links to jobs available in our primary industries. While seasonal jobs are plentiful, many can be the beginning of a long-term career. And opportunities aren’t only in labour-based roles in remote locations. Some are city-based, including work in research and development, technology, business management, animal welfare, and marketing.
Rural Delivery highlighted this by visiting Teviot Valley, in Central Otago, a major fruit growing community.
Bees’ best mate – dogs?
American Foulbrood (AFB) is a highly infectious disease caused by a primitive, spore producing bacteria that kills bee hives. The spores can survive for decades in soil and is particularly difficult to kill.
The disease has been in New Zealand since 1877 and under legislative management since 1906. Currently, detection relies primarily on visual assessment, which is labour-intensive and means early infections and spores can be overlooked.
Instead, a reliable detection dog could easily inspect every apiary in an area like the Wairarapa within a week. It is hoped the dogs will also be able to detect spores in these boxes before they are deployed.
K9 Search Medical Detection and DownUnder Honey – with funding from MPI’s Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund – are now researching the goal of training AFB detector dogs.
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