Climate change could threaten Bay of Plenty kiwifruit industry

Dr Andrew Tait is the lead author of a study on the kiwifruit industry's future. Photo/File
Dr Andrew Tait is the lead author of a study on the kiwifruit industry's future. Photo/File

A Niwa scientist says the most common variety of kiwifruit grown around Te Puke may be under threat from climate change but growers in the Western Bay say they are prepared.

According to Niwa climate scientist Dr Andrew Tait, by the end of this century, growing the main green variety Hayward locally would no longer be commercially viable.

Dr Tait, the lead author of a study on the industry's future, said research showed kiwifruit production around Te Puke steadily decreased over coming decades.

Photo/File
Photo/File

"It will be marginal by 2050 and mostly likely not viable by 2100 under all but the most stringent of global greenhouse gas emission options," he said.

"As air temperatures in New Zealand continue to rise, the potential for more years with marginal or poor winter chilling conditions steadily increases."

This could put significant stress on the kiwifruit industry in the Te Puke area, particularly if hydrogen cyanamide was banned, he said.

Kiwifruit company Zespri has just come off a record 2016-2017 growing year with about 93 million trays of green kiwifruit produced.

The Bay of Plenty produces around 80 per cent of the country's crop.

Zespri and the NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc said the industry was resilient as it did not rely on just one crop variety and invested in new ways to protect itself from environmental risks.

Zespri general manager innovation Carol Ward said 60 per cent of Zespri's growers
grew a licensed variety of kiwifruit, such as SunGold, which meant only 40 per cent of the country's 2500 growers solely grew green kiwifruit.

Ms Ward said the industry was resilient, thanks to several factors.

"One is diversity, with many orchardists growing more than one variety of kiwifruit. Another is we are continuously working to develop and evaluate new cultivars of kiwifruit through the world's largest kiwifruit breeding programme with plant and food research.

"It's a very long term programme and one that is vital for being prepared for future change," she said.

Katikati kiwifruit grower and former president of the New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc Neil Trebilco said climate change was a challenge for all growers.

"But I don't see the industry necessarily being under threat as the Niwa scientists are talking about the Hayward variety, and as we saw with the PSA-virus the industry had to respond in a much shorter timeframe to develop a PSA resistant variety."

Mr Trebilco said one of the biggest factors the industry had in its favour was that it heavily invested in research and development, and was constantly exploring ways to future-proof the industry from threats.

NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc vice chairman Mark Mayston said as a primary industry, the kiwifruit sector had proven itself to be resilient and innovative.

"In foresight of challenges such as climate change we will continue to advocate for growers through our ongoing work with industry stakeholders," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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