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Govt backs $27m horticulture project

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The Government is backing a new $27 million project aimed at boosting sustainable horticulture production and New Zealand’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.

“Our horticulture sector has long been one of New Zealand’s export star performers, contributing around $6 billion a year to our economy," says Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

"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."

Damien says A Lighter Touch is a collaboration between government and industry.

The aim is 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 says 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 says 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 says 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 says 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.”

Damien says the project will see the horticulture, arable and wine industries work together in a way they never have before.

“This project will enable these sectors to achieve much more, and in much a shorter time, than if each worked alone. This is exactly the sort of collaboration I hope other sectors will embrace.”

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