A research project to reduce the use of chemical pesticides on apple orchards has had a huge pay-off for the pipfruit industry.
Analysis by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has shown that the Apple Futures programme has been worth up to $113 million in export earnings in the past four years, for a research cost of just over $3 million.
The programme developed by Hort Research, now part of Plant & Food Research, was designed to control pests and diseases on apple orchards while reducing chemical residues on apples to minimal levels .
It was introduced about six years ago. Now, 95% of the apples exported to Europe are grown under the programme, with average residues below 10% of the EU maximum residue limits.
Plant & Food says the value is being able to ensure continued access to top-paying markets.
The Apple Futures programme combines computer modelling for disease prediction, with integrated pest management techniques where growers monitor for insect pests levels and only spray when necessary.
Business manager Declan Graham says programmes to reduce chemical residue levels are common throughout the horticulture sector now.