A fungus threatening the feijoa industry in Northland is about to take a $350,000 slap before it can move southwards.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) last week announced funding of $9.8 million for 31 new Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) projects — including $356,368 allocated for the only Northland-specific project, an application by the NZ Feijoa Growers Association for cash to develop a control programme to protect the New Zealand feijoa industry from an aggressive anthracnose (fungus) disease that causes premature fruit drop.

The fungus is attacking feijoa trees in Northland, where Kerikeri grower Peter Jack fears it could knock the region out of commercial production of feijoas and poses an infection threat to feijoa trees further south.

The fungus starts off as a small black spot which spreads all over the fruit within three days. While it's not dangerous to eat, it means the fruit isn't saleable.

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Peter and Debbie Jack in their feijoa orchard. Photo / Suppied
Peter and Debbie Jack in their feijoa orchard. Photo / Suppied

Jack used to have 700 feijoa trees in his orchard, but they were reduced to 500 after guava moth infection and, if the fungus problem is not overcome, he could consider pulling them all out.

Kerikeri growers used to produce around 200 tonnes of feijoas annually, but Jack said that could be down to about 10 tonnes now. He did not pick any feijoas last year. Some new varieties he had planted 15 months ago now had dead branches.

The NZ Feijoa Growers Association Inc has about 140 members around the country, mainly producing fruit for local market sales and processing with some exports to Australia.

Association manager Ian Turk, of Wellington, said the SSF funding would run for three years trying to identify existing feijoa cultivars resistant to the fungus.

We're guessing it's a climate issue.

"We're guessing it's a climate issue. The fungus doesn't respond to traditional fungus programmes on orchards and management is needed to reduce the chance of infection," he said.

The SFF provides funding for projects led by farmers, growers, and foresters aimed at building economic, environmental and social sustainability in the primary sector. It has recently been replaced by MPI's new Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) programme. The 31 projects were in the pipeline before its launch in October last year.

What healthy feijoas should look like. Photo / File
What healthy feijoas should look like. Photo / File

SFF director of investment programmes Steve Penno said the new 31 projects ranged from building our apiculture industry's capacity by training people on tree species that support bee populations, to one that's about improving water quality through the use of plantain pastures to reduce nitrogen leaching.

"Another project is looking to understand fish behaviour at pump stations and how to reduce the threat the stations have on native fish, while another involving five properties in the Central Hawke's Bay will assess the opportunity for growing kiwifruit in the region."

Find out more about the new SFF projects at: mpi.govt.nz/funding-and-programmes/sustainable-food-and-fibre-futures/sustainable-farming-fund-projects/