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Organic pipfruit research goes holistic

13 May, 2002

Organic produce - it may or may not taste better, it may or may not be better nutritionally but HortResearch has made a commitment to increase and broaden research into organic pipfruit production.

According to HortResearch scientist Jim Walker, current organic pipfruit production in New Zealand is not sustainable for the future.

“Current practices see yields declining in certain varieties,” said Dr Walker.

After a long hard look at organics HortResearch scientists have made a commitment to develop a more holistic approach to fruit production and this could provide answers for sustainable organics. The area dedicated to organic fruit production research at the HortResearch Hawke’s Bay site will be significantly increased this spring.

One focus will be gaining a better understanding of organic management on the performance of conventional varieties and promising new selections with natural resistance to diseases. Alternative rootstocks will be assessed to overcome the loss of vigour seen in some conventional cultivars under organic management.

Weed control can be difficult under organics, especially when developing new organic plantings. Trials will look at various ways of weed management to find the most practical methods to manage the understory in new established organic orchards.

To help with the trials a new piece of equipment, a tillage device, has been developed to evaluate a European concept in organic weed management called the ‘sandwich system’. . This confines understory vegetation to a very narrow strip in the tree line while lightly cultivating the balance of the under-tree zone and replaces the need for herbicide use.

The holistic approach includes the nutritional levels, alternative rootstocks, blackspot and mildew resistant varieties, soil management and how all these impact on tree growth and performance, yield and fruit quality. There will be a particular focus on orchard ecology, using flowering plant species in diversified understory plantings to optimise the role of beneficial insects and soil microbial activity.

“What we are doing is developing a more broadly integrated approach and thinking beyond the crop protection issues,” said Dr Walker. We have identified that through this approach to organic management more may be achieved than the single ‘reductionist’ scientific approach.

“As organic production becomes more mainstream we have to come up with better ways to manage the orchards using all the disciplines.

“We have been working with organics since the early 1980s, but it has been the last few years when the market was demanding organics that it has finally taken off,” said Dr Walker.

For example codling moth mating disruption was developed and was a technology largely sitting on the shelf until grower interest developed in organic apple production. It is now the basis for successful organic pest management.

Dr Walker said researchers initially looked at organics from a pest management angle, then disease management, and the key tools in use now have come from those areas. But now a broadly based focus was essential for continued and sustainable growth in organic fruit production.


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