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Kiwi Jab Does The Job

Home-grown innovation is about to be used to keep New Zealand avocado trees healthy, where once a South African jab did the job. Bay of Plenty grower and packer Allan Dawson has modified a previously imported plastic syringe.

The syringe, which has gone into production, is used to inject phosphorous acid into avocado trees to protect them from the fungal root-rot disease phytophthora.

"We used to use South African syringes," says Mr Dawson, managing director of Aongatete Coolstores.

"The idea came from Jonathan Cutting, the chief executive of the Avocado Industry Council, who is from South Africa. Injecting the trees is common over there.

"Then the South African makers stopped making them, so we decided to make our own, but with some improvements."

The project entailed designing and making a mould, and modifying the South African model by making the tip longer and including a twist-stopper to lock the plunger into place during the injection. These changes have been patented. Technology New Zealand - part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology - supported the project.

Phytophthora rots a tree's roots, slowly killing it. To control it, growers drill a hole into the tree's xylem - "its upwards bloodstream" - and then inject the neutralised phosphorous acid into it. This is distributed from the leaves via the "downward bloodstream" to the roots.

Mr Dawson says Phytophthora was endemic in most orchards and the new control has "turned around" the avocado industry.

"Phosphorous acid began to be used in New Zealand in the late 80s. Without this, growers would be struggling to have half the production we have now," he says.

Avocado growers are looking at gaining export markets worth $100 million a year by 2005. Mr Dawson says growers have tested the new syringe and it works well. An initial production run of 10,000 has begun.

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