Good for exports, health and environment: a history of apple pest management

6 March 2017

A unified, goal-driven sector with a responsiveness to market demand is credited with the development of a pest management system in New Zealand’s apple industry that is the envy of other countries and crop industries.

That is the verdict of entomologists Dr Jim Walker, Professor Max Suckling, and Dr Howard Wearing – scientists at Plant & Food Research and co-authors of a new article tracking the progress of apple pest management in New Zealand over recent decades.

“It’s a New Zealand primary industry success story. One which we should be proud of and one which has played a major role in contributing to New Zealand being named the world’s most competitive apple producer in last year’s World Apple Report,” says Dr Walker.

“Robust scientific research, a collaborative culture and shared vision within the apple industry have led to innovations that have completely redesigned the approach to apple pest management.

“We’ve moved from a blanket approach of applying chemicals to control pests, to integrated systems that have reduced pesticide use in the apple industry by 90 percent, and ensured that even the chemicals currently in use are regarded as benign.

“New pest management strategies have dramatically reduced the failure rate for pests in export inspections, which has helped with opening up new markets for New Zealand apples around the world.”

The low incidence of residues on New Zealand apples has seen the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA assess them as presenting a significantly lower dietary risk than those from other countries, and on a par with organic apples.

“The innovations in integrated pest management have been good for export markets, good for human health and good for ecosystems,” says Dr Walker.

The success with commercial integrated pest management is in large part due to the vision of earlier scientists and the willingness of the New Zealand apple industry to work with them to make it a reality.

“Thanks to the foresight of Dr Elsie Collyer and other DSIR scientists, who saw the coming need for pest control without broad-spectrum pesticides, integrated pest management research, which commenced in the 1960s, was fully implemented during the late 1990s,” says Dr Wearing.

The integrated pest management methods employed have also influenced the ecosystems within apple orchards.

“Our historical review reveals some interesting things, not least the long-term ecological change in insects regulating pests,” says Professor Suckling.

“Integrated pest management has increased biodiversity, which means we now have highly evolved pest management systems that support orchard ecosystem health with the maximum use of beneficial insects and ecosystem services.”

According to the authors, the complexity of integrated pest management means the scientific research must continue to keep pace with a changing commercial and biological environment.

“Although we’ve had some great success with integrated pest management in apples, the increasing demands from tourism, global trade and climate change mean it’s important that the science stays on top of the ongoing and evolving threats, such as new pest incursions, and that the industry remains vigilant and responsive to these risks,” says Dr Walker.

The article Past, Present and Future of Integrated Control of Apple Pests: The New Zealand Experience, which charts the progress made in reducing pesticide use in New Zealand apple orchards, has been published in the journal Annual Review of Entomology.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
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