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Brown Beetle Threat to Organic Vineyards

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Brown Beetle Threat to Organic Vineyards

The brown beetle (Costelytra zealandica) is a pest causing problems to vineyards that are committed to sustainability. Previously being kept under control by the use of insecticides, the beetle is causing havoc as more vineyards head towards organic and biodynamic practices. This same beetle in its immature stages is known as the grass grub, a pest to farming pastures for decades.

Kono Beverages, producer of Tohu and Aronui wines, are co-leading a project to study the life cycle of the brown beetle. They aim to find sustainable ways to mitigate the damage it causes in vineyards. Being committed to Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) through their unique Maori culture, Kono places great value on the health and vitality of their land, and are aiming for their Awatere Valley vineyard to become a fully organic operation by 2020. They have teamed up with PhD student Mauricio González Chang, and Professor Steve Wratten from the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University, the only government-funded Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) in the South Island. Having secured three years of funding through a Callaghan Innovation Grant, this study is Chang’s PhD project.

“We aim to understand the biology of the beetle and what to do to ameliorate the damage it does using agro-ecological techniques,” Professor Steve Wratten, Lincoln University.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines are the most susceptible, and Kono Beverages have set aside an area of their Awatere vineyard for experimentation. “We are interested in biological controls, and intervention at the larvae stage. Can we disturb the beetles’ feeding patterns underground or its life-cycle,” asks Mondo Kopua, Marlborough Group Vineyards Manager, Kono Beverages. Trials will range from planting intercepting hedges, inter-row crops, and headlands sward. Organically approved sprays applied to leaves and soil will also be experimented with in order to decrease vine leaves’ palatability.

Some trials will be replicated in other partner vineyards in Marlborough, including Wither Hills, and Rock Ferry. Field days will also be held to share information and ideas with the wider industry.

With Organic Winegrowers New Zealand having set targets to have 20% of New Zealand vineyard under organic husbandry by 2020, it is important that this type of research is undertaken now.

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