Kiwi apple growers have maintained their profitable north European markets by greatly reducing fruit spray residues.
An Apple Futures growing programme which linked scientists and growers figuring out how to reduce sprays and residues while maintaining fruit quality has been an outstanding success, says a study by New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist Bill Kaye-Blake.
Even under the most relaxed of economic assumptions, the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) was 4.68, or a total $15 million benefit to the industry. The highest BCR was 35.39, based on still being able to supply apples to northern Europe instead of being totally excluded from the market.
Totalled over four years from 2008 to 2011, the economic benefit of Apple Futures has been calculated at $113 million, the NZIER study says.
Britain and Germany in particular have been demanding reduced chemical use on fruit, with individual supermarket chains being even stricter than the maximums set by the European Union. Some supermarkets require residues to be less than 10 per cent of that allowed by the EU.
"The pipfruit industry was having trouble, looking to preserve value and keep markets open," said Kaye-Blake.
The Apple Futures approach was a step beyond the Integrated Pest Management regimes which dictate spraying only when insects and pests reach a certain population density.
Grower participation in the trial was over-subscribed, he said.
"This was much more than Integrated Pest Management, with growers keeping a much better track of spray diaries, and, after the apples were picked, testing the fruit for residues," Kaye-Blake said.
The collection of the spray data and linking to residue levels has provided much better information than previously available about when a final spray can be carried out for example.
"The industry now has a residue/decay profile curve," he said. "In the past we didn't know the shape of this curve, but this information will allow the industry to stay ahead of its competition, particularly from South America."
One the benefits of the programme had been the development of "smarter growers", Kaye-Blake said.
"The programme has built industry capability, with growers and staff all aware of what they should do and why, when it comes to sprays."