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Apple Orchards Surveyed As Part Of Cyclone Gabrielle Recovery Research

Scientists from Plant & Food Research have been collecting data from apple orchards in Hawke’s Bay to better understand the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on plant and soil health and support grower’s management decisions.

The Soil Health - Assessment and Recovery Project, which got underway two weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle, has involved working with about 30 orchard owners and managers to study the effects of silt and waterlogging on apple blocks. Working with industry body New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc, the aim is to develop resources that will be shared industry wide and help optimise grower’s spend on recovery efforts.

“This has been an extraordinary event and the industry has done a fantastic job of getting through the harvest under extremely challenging conditions. Heading into winter, there are more complex decisions to be made and our focus is on keeping information flowing through to growers,” says New Zealand Apple and Pears chair Richard Punter.

Project leader, Dr Stephen Trolove from Plant & Food Research says while damage in the region varies significantly, it’s estimated that the cyclone has cost the Hawke’s Bay horticulture industry about $1.5 billion in terms of lost production, and replanting costs. Around 4000 hectares of apple orchards alone have been affected by silt or the waterlogging following the cyclone.

With winter pruning around the corner, growers will be considering where to focus their recovery efforts, with the hope of nursing any stressed trees back to good health and ensuring they can deliver a crop in coming seasons.

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“Waterlogging can suffocate trees, and extremely wet soils can lead to serious root disease issues, and we want to get more information on the implications for longer term tree survival.”

“The data we collect will improve our understanding of the issues presented in the different blocks and which management practices were more effective, enabling growers will be able to make better decisions when floods occur in the future.”

Plant & Food Research has partnered with horticultural consultants AgFirst and Fruition Horticulture on the project, who have used their networks and expertise to help identify orchards for the study and assist with data collection and interpretation.

The first round of surveying on orchards took place two weeks after the Cyclone and orchard blocks are now being revisited for the second time, to reassess the condition of trees and groundcover.

Dr Jim Walker, who has led Plant & Food Research’s industry engagement since the cyclone, says other projects aimed at supporting the recovery of the horticultural sector in the aftermath of the February storm are also underway.

“We are listening carefully to feedback from industry partners and growers with a focus on building back even better.”

“These initial projects and the data collection that’s underway could also help inform future research, such as orchard design for a changing climate, as well as the work we do with developing new rootstocks and apple varieties.”

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