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$29 million boost for biosecurity research

$29 million boost for biosecurity research

Research that will help protect New Zealand’s unique landscape and animals from imported diseases and pests has received more than $29 million of funding over five years, from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

The Foundation, which invests in research, science and technology (RS&T) on behalf of the Government, has allocated the funds, which total more than five times the amount biosecurity received in the last funding round, to three major biosecurity projects as part of the 2002/03 sustainability investment round.

In accordance with the Foundation’s commitment to fund priority research areas in New Zealand, the projects will focus on the best means for protecting our ecology and agriculture from introduced threats in the future.

The Foundation’s Group Manager of Portfolio Management, John Smart says New Zealand’s agricultural, horticultural and arable industries are threatened by well over 80,000 alien species with the potential to become pests should they reach our shores, making biosecurity a main concern.

“Protecting New Zealand’s land and water-based industries is crucial to our economic lifeblood.

“It’s important to concentrate research funding in this area when the threat of invasion is increasing due to the growing number of invasive alien species in the countries with which we exchange goods and visitors, escalating global trade and visitor numbers, new trading routes, and climate change.

“Considering the painted apple moth eradication programme has cost $90 million over three years, this research funding to prevent further incursions will be money well spent.”

The largest of the new ventures, that has won $15 million over five years, aims to minimise future biosecurity threats to farming, cropping and orcharding.

Ag Research, along with HortResearch, Crop & Food Research, MAF and industry, will carry out a multi-disciplinary programme to bolster New Zealand’s efforts to exclude the entry of weeds, pests and diseases and provide new tools for effective and justifiable responses when unwanted organisms do get in.

Included in this will be the development of improved surveillance strategies to promptly detect if anything that has slipped in.

The key stakeholder, MAF, has endorsed the project and will collaborate to ensure benefits from the research are delivered to New Zealand.

Funding of $1.6 million over three years has been allocated to the development of a sensor technology system for detecting biosecurity incursions within containers on ships docking in New Zealand.

The proposed system, dubbed ‘SniffertechTM’, is based on the ability of container-installed ‘collection devices’ to repeatedly sample the restricted air present during a voyage.

The device will detect unwanted biological material (such as wood packaging and social insects) and on arrival, be interrogated by sensing instruments to determine the presence of biosecurity threats.

Research will be conducted in the first instance using an AgResearch container-based experimental facility and later, under operational conditions in close co-operation with MAF Quarantine Service.

A programme that aims to improve the protection of New Zealand’s forests from foreign weeds, insects, and disease has won $12.8m over five years.

The forest health programme put forward by Forest Research aims to increase the resistance of New Zealand’s forest ecosytems to pest invasion. While much attention is rightly focused on keeping pests and disease out, a major aim of this research is to understand how growers can reduce the vulnerability of the resource in the first place, for example, there may be ways of matching different species to sites that suit them best, where they will be most healthy.

While this programme aims to deliver important environmental outcomes, the main focus will be on protecting the wealth creation capacity of the plantation forest industry.

The researchers have predicted that by preventing just one serious pest incursion, the money saved would fund this programme for up to 25 years.

The project has a high level of end-user participation, including input from the Forest Owners Association (NZFOA) and MAF Forest Biosecurity and fits in with a wide range of national strategies and international agreements.

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