Warmer winds carry fresh challenges to the major industries of regional New Zealand. Kim Fulton investigates the likely impacts of climate change and what is being done.

Climate change is tipped to alter New Zealand's wines, shift crops and present new challenges for forestry and farming.

With more than two hundred million litres of wine shipping out of the country each year, some clever thinking will be needed to meet the international palate as our growing conditions alter over our heads and under our very feet. In our pine forests, over a million hectares of radiata pine bristle in the warmer nor-easterly breezes while clinging to top soils being swept away by increasingly extreme weather events.

New Zealand's climate is changing with long-term trends towards higher temperatures, more hot extremes, fewer cold extremes, and shifting rainfall patterns in some regions, according to the New Zealand Climate Change Centre.

Influence on wine

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) data shows New Zealand's average annual temperature has already increased by about 0.9C over the past 100 years.
Lincoln University senior lecturer in viticulture Dr Glen Creasy said the changing climate could influence harvest times and wine styles.


"It's very definitely been advancing harvest dates in Australia so there's no reason to think it would be any different in New Zealand."

Increasing summer temperatures mean a warmer growing season for grapes.

"It'll change the composition of the fruit so the flavours and the kinds of wines that can be made from the fruit will shift over time and so [grape growers] probably have to change the way they manage the vines in order to keep the wine style that they want to produce the same.

"That's something that's already being done but it's a matter of being proactive rather than reactive."

Some wine styles relied on cooler weather and temperature increases might mean particular wine styles couldn't be made in 50 to 100 years time, he said. Likewise, warmer summer temperatures might wine styles which couldn't be reliably produced now.

"If the managers are on top of things then it should mean, within a certain range anyway, that it will overall improve the quality or quantity of the fruit and the harvest."

Dr Creasy said less frequent but more severe frosts could also be a big concern for the industry.

"If you have frosts occurring that you cannot control and they occur too many times then it just doesn't become viable for the business to operate that way, so that may see some people shifting around a little bit as those frost events come in and people find out how bad they are.

"The one thing that's for sure, well at least in my opinion, is the risks associated with producing grape vines and grapes for wine are going to increase and so management will have to adjust to that."

Plant & Food Research science group leader Brent Clothier said growers and farmers were good at planning ahead regardless of whether they were consciously adapting to climate change.

They made changes as part of everyday management, such as using Hi-cane to stimulate flowering in kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty - necessary because of the region's high temperatures.

Dr Clothier said different cultivars of crops, such as kiwifruit which didn't have a winter chilling requirement, might be necessary as the climate changed. Different crops might also be grown in different places.

Tropical crops, such as those grown in Queensland, might eventually take the place of kiwifruit in Northland.

Erosion front of mind for forestry

Scion Research principal scientist Dr Tim Payn said more storms leading to increased risk of erosion was front of mind for those in the forestry sector.

"So probably not so much the temperature as the mixture of temperature, rainfall and those sort of extreme events."

A pine forest near Mangakino in the central North Island. A loss of top soil to erosion could decrease forest productivity. Photo / File
A pine forest near Mangakino in the central North Island. A loss of top soil to erosion could decrease forest productivity. Photo / File

A loss of top soil to erosion could decrease forest productivity. Fire prevention and monitoring was another priority.

Dr Payn said the forestry sector was looking at climate issues all the time and incrementally adapted as things changed. Ongoing management included disease programmes, weed control, fire risk and wind risk.

He said pests and diseases could increase as temperatures warmed, with wet and warm areas most susceptible.

On the positive side, Dr Payn said warmer climates would boost productivity for some plantations. There was no evidence as yet that locations of plantations would have to change based on current or future climates.

Dairy farmers adapting

University of Waikato professor of agribusiness, Jacqueline Rowarth, said farmers were "absolutely" aware of climate change and were trying to adapt to it.

"Farmers get a bad press. Farmers are doing everything they can to set up their businesses in a resilient fashion and cope with what is going on."

The unpredictably of the weather was a challenge for farmers and they were preparing for weather events which may or may not happen, she said.

"I think the worst thing is drought, and the unpredictability of where the water is going to be has been impacting us for some time."

She said a proper water debate needed to take place in New Zealand, which wasn't happening.

"We haven't reached the state of maturity that the debates can happen without the emotion that's rife.

"If you haven't got water then you can't grow grass so what are we going to do?"

Dairy farmers had installed shelters to keep animals cool and provided efficient ways of feeding animals when there was no grass, said Dr Rowarth.

Farmers were also converting to dairy because it was easier to manage the environment for dairy than for beef and sheep.

"I think farmers have done a heap and the industry bodies are trying to help with the consideration of options but we do have animal welfare and of course human welfare, environmental welfare, all of those things to consider at once," she said.