Crop Protection

Crop protection with A Lighter Touch

31 August 2023, NZ: The landscape for our growers is changing. Market access requirements, pest and disease resistance, consumer demand and regulatory shifts are all factors that impact the way they grow our food.

But this is not new, it’s been happening for some years now, and it was from a recognition growers needed to adapt with this moving landscape that a programme called A Lighter Touch was born.

It you haven’t heard of it, it’s a $27 million seven-year industry and government partnership designed to support New Zealand’s plant-based food producers move from agrichemical pest management to agroecological crop protection – sustainable farming that works with nature.

Funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, along with the 15 plant product group members, it also has the financial support of three crop protection partners. Horticulture New Zealand holds the contract with MPI to deliver the programme’s vision of supporting New Zealand’s horticulture, arable and viticulture sectors to move towards crop protection with a lighter environmental touch.

The programme began in 2020 and is now halfway through its lifespan. A big advantage for growers is its collaborative nature – it pools the resources of all its product group members in terms of both knowledge and resources. Right from the start it was recognised all sectors would go further, faster through working together, with the support of government.

What this means is for every dollar invested by growers through their product groups in A Lighter Touch, there is a multiplier effect through MPI’s contribution, and via 15 plant product groups sharing the cost of programme work focused on identifying knowledge and tools to improve crop protection.

As every grower knows, the same pests and diseases are an issue for multiple crops, so many of the projects being trialled and evaluated through A Lighter Touch have pan-sector benefits. Knowledge, research and resources are being shared via the programme with the common goal of supporting growers to shift the needle towards biological, cultural and chemical controls that are commercially viable and gentler on the environment, produce and people.

The programme draws in expertise from the science community, working alongside the likes of Plant and Food Research and AgResearch as well as numerous contract research organisations. Our work includes updating pesticide resistance management strategies, trialling biological control agents, biologicals and bio-pesticides, and supporting the development, extension and uptake of integrated pest management in crop protection, to give just a few examples.

There are more than 30 projects completed or underway as part of the A Lighter Touch programme, with new work being scoped. Every month we distribute a newsletter sharing the latest updates from the programme, opportunities to attend educational workshops, and news relating to crop protection. Sign up to the newsletter here.

A Lighter Touch is a programme conceived by industry, supported by government, with the goal of delivering to growers the best skills, tools and techniques to help manage their crop pest and disease problems and future proof their businesses.

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