Opotiki kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White, with their children Letisha, 16, and Lochlan, 14, have just returned home from a two-week trip to Italy touring Zespri orchards to learn how Italian horticulturalists are dealing with an incursion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
The Whites, who grow kiwifruit organically on their Eastern Bay of Plenty orchard, took the trip as part of their prize as 2018’s national winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Last June the couple became recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy – chosen from 11 regional winners – and National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing, taking them on a 12-month journey of sharing their story of sustainability while also learning new skills.
Catriona says they chose to visit Italy with a biosecurity focus, primarily to learn how orchardists there deal with the stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). “Historically, when vine-killing disease Psa-V was detected in New Zealand that disease was already in Italy. When it came to NZ we were very underprepared for it.
“With the stink bug, there’s so much data out there – and there’s been so many bugs found outside of quarantine facilities in NZ already – it hasn’t taken hold here yet but we’re in big danger [of it doing so].
“Whereas Italy already has the bug and they’re farming through it – so we want to see up-close how they deal with it, what they do, and I believe many Italians use quite traditional growing methods – with our orchard being organic, they may hold some organic answers,” Catriona told Coast & Country News before the family left NZ on May 10.
“The thing with this stink bug is there doesn’t appear to be – even for conventional orchardists – a relatively simple solution to control it,” says Catriona.
Although she’s pleased the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Government and the Environmental Protection Agency have authorised release of a Samurai Wasp in the case of a stink bug incursion in NZ.
“That could be our biggest defence – but it’ll be interesting to see what damage we see on Italian orchards, and what Italians are doing to control their crops. Plus we’ll learn about other pests and diseases we see there too.”
The Whites were heading to Rome then south to the Latina region – Catriona believes is Italy’s biggest kiwifruit-growing region. “Latina is hosting a Greek Kiwifruit Growers convention while we’re there – so we’ll join their tour of organic and conventional orchards with Greek kiwifruit growers.
“Hopefully, we can chat to them and learn about growing kiwifruit in Greece as well.” They were also heading north to Bologna and Verona to visit orchards.
Catriona says the decision to take their teenage children along came naturally – they’ve grown up on the orchard and are very much part of its development. “The kids have a tiny block in our orchard they look after and do the work on, so they have an interest in kiwifruit orcharding as well – and both are passionate about all things environment.”
The Whites will now share their Italian research trip at The New Zealand Farm Environment Trust’s National Sustainability Showcase 2019 on June 6 in Hamilton. They also plan to brief Horticulture NZ and MPI.