A new $15 million project is underway to eradicate all sprays from the apple industry including fungicide and pesticide, in a move aimed at enhancing New Zealand's clean and green image.
An industry leader in Hawke's Bay has welcomed the project and says it could give the region's apples a "competitive edge" overseas.
Hawke's Bay grows the most apples by far of any region across the country and will be a big focus of the seven-year, $14.7m research programme announced this week.
The programme will investigate new smart technologies as an alternative to sprays, to help detect and get rid of pests and diseases.
"A lot of the work will be done in Hawke's Bay but we will be doing work in our other regions as well," programme lead Dr Rachel Kilmister said.
"Nelson is another key area and Central Otago and Gisborne."
The programme, led by NZ Apples and Pears, is part of a wider target for all apple orchards across the country to become spray-free by 2050.
The apple industry has already come a long way since the turn of the century and no longer uses "toxic" sprays on orchards which are harmful to humans.
However, NZ Apples and Pears wants to see the industry get rid of all fungicide and pesticide sprays which are still commonly used, to further strengthen New Zealand's reputation.
Kilmister said the team involved in the project would look into technologies and methods to eliminate diseases and pests without requiring sprays.
"It might be using spectral cameras that are already out there and trying to develop [that technology] to be able to detect the disease that is relevant to us.
"If you can isolate it to one spot and one tree in the orchard, then you may be able to go out and cut out that particular infestation."
She said at present, growers generally only used sprays when a problem arose.
"We are [currently] primarily relying on biological control and try to allow the natural insects in the orchards to control our key pests and diseases, but sometimes we have to help them a little bit with targeted sprays."
NZ Fruitgrowers Federation president Leon Stallard, from Hawke's Bay, said the project would be welcomed by growers in the region.
"If you can reduce the number of fungicides [we use] then absolutely.
"And [if it helps] give ourselves a competitive advantage in an international market that is extemely competitive, then bring it on."
The project is being half funded by NZ Apples and Pears, which represents growers, and half funded by the Government.