New Zealand Apples and Pears has begun a seven-year project to try to make the industry spray-free by 2050.
The seven-year, $14.77 million project has received a $7.44m grant from the government's Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.
Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor said plant health standards for detectable pests and food safety standards for agrichemical residues were important requirements for New Zealand's export markets.
"Fruit that doesn't meet those standards won't be allowed into those markets. In addition, Europe and Asia, which are New Zealand's largest markets for our apples and pears, have set new targets for the reduction of agrichemicals by 2030.
"As with our entire primary sector, we need to stay ahead of the game to achieve our ambitious growth targets."
New Zealand Apples and Pears research and development programme manager Rachel Kilmister said there were already spray alternatives available but they needed more research and testing.
"There are semiochemicals which are pheromone plant-based natural chemicals which can disrupt the meeting of pests with an orchard, so you can use those instead of spraying chemicals.
"Some other technologies are based around cultural control where you treat the ground and try to remove diseases and pests through treating the leaves that fall to the ground.
"There are also barrier controls which you put over the soil to stop pests emerging - so there are already options there."
Kilmister said new apple varieties created by Prevar were already being bred to be pest and disease resistant and will be critical for achieving the spray-free target.
By 2030, the research programme aimed to have further reduced pesticide application by 50 per cent by using targeted and smart technology.
Achieving a spray-free status by 2050 would also result in a reduction of industry greenhouse gas emissions by 35 per cent.
O'Connor said horticulture export revenue was expected to reach $6.9 billion for the year to 30 June 2022.
"By further reducing pesticide use, this programme aims to safeguard export revenue to the tune of $1.1 billion between 2023 and 2030."