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Programme Overview

A Lighter Touch is a $27 million, seven-year, programme jointly funded by government and industry. The programme will address the challenge of meeting consumer demands for safe food that is produced under sustainable pest management programmes while also being gentle on the environment. Government funding is via the Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Programme.

A Lighter Touch will focus on understanding and better managing aspects of agroecosystems that lead to increased levels of pests and diseases, and how to integrate more sustainable crop protection practices. Understanding the agroecosystem and reducing the opportunity for pests to thrive will reduce the need for crop protection interventions.

There will be increased use of biopesticides and biological control agents, with these tools becoming embedded into crop protection programmes. Agrichemical residues in exported crops and products, overall agrichemical use, and resistance risk will all be reduced and be a marketing advantage for New Zealand products.

Biopesticides are crop protection agents based on living micro-organisms or natural products

University of Warwick

The plant-based food sector, incorporating horticulture, arable cropping, and wine production, generates over $8 billion annually. New Zealand horticulture is valued at over $6 billion, with $3.4 billion in exports, produced by 6000 commercial fruit and vegetable growers. The arable industry contributes $1.4 billion to the economy from domestically consumed grain and food crops, and seed exports. The wine industry produces $1.9 billion of wine for domestic and export sale, with all but $54 million exported.

Where needed, crop protection programmes will have access to new-age agrichemicals that can be used in harmony with biological programmes and agroecological crop protection. This will ensure that the development of export opportunities is not constrained by pest management problems, regulatory restrictions, or failure to meet consumer expectations. Crop protection best practices will be incorporated into normal practice in industry pest management programmes.

A Lighter Touch has a major extension programme focussed on implementation of agroecological crop protection through the development of specific extension tools and programmes, model farms, and focus groups to ensure grower uptake of new crop protection tools and integration into everyday practice.

What is

Agroecology is the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems and practices

Oxford Dictionary

A Lighter Touch seeks to use the best technology available to shift the focus of crop protection, and integrate biological and ecological processes into food production – to achieve a lighter touch on the environment and meet consumer demands.

Understanding and better management of aspects of agricultural ecosystems that directly or indirectly lead to increased levels of pests and diseases is at the heart of the programme. Reducing the opportunities for pests and diseases to thrive reduces the requirement for crop protection interventions.

Although it comes with numerous additional challenges, we should be adaptively managing agroecosystems…not attempting to control one or a few organisms within these systems1

1. Peterson, R.K.D, Higley, L.G, Pedigo, L.P 2018. Whatever happened to integrated pest management, American Entomologist 64:3 pp 146–150.

In New Zealand, there are additional challenges to producing crops efficiently, economically and meeting importing country biosecurity requirements.

Working out where to start is the challenge. The size and range of obstacles is large, too large for individual sectors alone. Capacity upscaling is needed to develop and implement new technologies to show that agroecological crop protection can work and is an appropriate long-term strategy.

The horticulture, arable and wine sectors have joined with the Ministry for Primary Industries in a long-term collaborative research and extension programme to overcome these obstacles and collectively address the challenge of meeting consumer demands and the transition to agroecological crop protection programmes.

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