The New Zealand Apple Industry has traditionally held a premium position in key world markets as a result of the quality of fruit it exports, the development of new varieties, and it’s ability to meet changing consumer demands.
The 1990’s witnessed a significant step in the evolving New Zealand Apple Story with the introduction of the Integrated Fruit Production Programme, phasing out the use of harsh chemicals, and replacing these with more acceptable orchard management techniques, and softer sprays for the control of insects and disease.
IFP has become the industry standard, and adopted by buyers in key world markets, who now demand that all suppliers to these Northern Hemisphere markets produce fruit to the standards obtainable under the IFP programme.
Having established IFP as the standard, European retailers have highlighted the demand from their consumers for fruit with even lower chemical residues. As a result these retailers are now challenging their suppliers to meet increasingly stringent residue standards. The New Zealand industry has identified this development as an opportunity, and recognized that it has the theoretical capability to meet that market requirement. Apple Futures is the project charged with developing, commercializing, and implementing that capability.
Apple Futures is a partnership formed between NZ Apples & Pears Inc and the three regional economic development agencies of Hawke’s Bay Incorporated, the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency, and Otago Forward. The partners have combined to drive Apple Futures with the support of New Zealand Trade and Industry who are backing the project through their Major Regional Initiative programme over a three year period.
The New Zealand Apple Industry has a tradition of meeting the market, and setting new industry standards in fruit production. The Apple Futures project is not the end result of this programme, but the next significant step down the pathway towards the production of safe fruit in a sustainable way.
European retailers in particular are focusing on a demand from their consumers for high quality, residue free fruit. This is not possible for all plant protection products in use as many are by their very nature, designed to impart some period of protection after application, limiting the ability to meet the “residue free” challenge.
With current knowledge “residue free” is an unrealistic claim, that in practice is highly unlikely to be achieved by an active production system - especially one that maintains standards of fruit quality and appearance. Even in the most advanced programmes, pest and disease pressures in any given season may demand the use of particular plant protection products to ensure fruit quality is maintained, but which in turn may deliver a residue, albeit at low levels.
US research has identified that 43% of [claimed] residue free produce actually contained residues. This fact highlights the inability of growers to guarantee their product is 100% free of chemical residues - even if they don’t use them, as cross contamination, spray drift, orchard and pack house management practices all impact on residues
Some programmes in other countries strive to test produce, separate, and certify produce that are claimed to have residues at or below the limit of detection. These programmes are residue filters not production programmes designed to achieve the target, and which raise significant commercial risks resulting from testing inaccuracy, and the challenge of marketing “failed” fruit.
The challenge is therefore to define, implement, and manage a production programme which produces marketable quality fruit profitably. Apple Futures is such a programme.
Apple Futures is designed to deliver apples and pears with, in the worst case scenario, ultra low residues. Most residues will not be detectable using standard, internationally approved, analytical tests, although it is acknowledged that as technology advances, testing regimes will be able to detect residues present but at levels well below the current detection level.
The Apple Futures programme is focused on establishing a combination of management techniques and “soft” products, which target specific pests and diseases where they occur. Products are selected which ensure good quality fruit is produced, and which will return ‘nil detectable’ residue profiles. Where that is not practicable, orchard management techniques, and products recommended should ensure that fruit is produced with a residue profile no greater than 10% of internationally set Maximum Residue Levels for the market targeted.
This requires that products with a longer residual life are used early in the season, and substituted with short residual life products later. Extensive use of pest and beneficial organism monitoring and biological control is used during the season along with cultural controls applied during, post harvest and over tree dormancy. This activity ensures the minimum number of applications of products required to control pests.
Apple Futures is a three year project, targeting growers in Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, and Central Otago, and working with a group of these growers to develop, refine, and implement the programme over this time frame. In the 2007-08 season, the programme was introduced in the Central Otago and Hawke’s Bay, with a launch into the Nelson region scheduled for the 2008-09 season.
As expected, the environmental challenges in the 2007-08 season have resulted in a number of refinements and modifications to the programme for Year 2, and no doubt this will be further refined and developed over the coming two seasons to produce a proven and viable production management system by the end of the three year life of the Apple Futures project.