PM’s prize focuses on the value of science in horticulture

13 Feb 2018

The Plant & Food Research team that took on the devastating Psa-V disease and won, are the deserving recipients of the Prime Minister’s top science prize, Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says.

Members of the winning team, led by Dr Bruce Campbell, were awarded the prize worth $500,000, at an event at Parliament today.

“When Psa was discovered at a Te Puke orchard in 2010, that could have meant the end of the kiwifruit industry,” Chapman says.

“The Plant & Food Research team got their experts on the ground in the Bay of Plenty and the result was the new gold kiwifruit cultivar now sold around the world as Zespri® SunGold Kiwifruit.”

Forty-eight million trays of SunGold were sold last season, with an export value of $686 million – up 70 per cent on the previous year and increasing by about 10 million trays a year.

“This really shows the value of science and research in the growing horticulture industry,” Chapman says. “The fact that in New Zealand we have such brilliant scientists that can turn the potential collapse of an industry into it rising from the ashes to be better than ever before is something we should not only be proud of, but something we should invest more money into.

“Plant & Food Research stood behind the kiwifruit industry in one of its darkest hours, when Psa was at its worst. The only way forward for the kiwifruit industry was through new varieties that were more Psa tolerant and through new orchard husbandry, and Plant & Food were at the forefront in providing this support. It is not too much to say that without their work, it would be a very different industry today.

“The horticulture industry will become even greater with the use of science and technology to develop new plant varieties that meet consumer demand, like SunGold has done for the many fruit eaters around the world who love it, and to combat pests and diseases.

“Plant & Food Research has said the prize money will be invested in developing the next generation of science technologies to protect plants against biosecurity threats and to develop New Zealand as a hub for bioprotection technologies, which is just fantastic.

“Plant & Food Research provides support across all of the commercial horticulture crops and that support has placed New Zealand produce in a class of its own, securing premium returns in our off-shore markets.

“We congratulate the team and look forward to what’s next.”