Article by: Hari Yellina
A famous New Zealand export may be negatively impacted by climate change in the next decades due to rising temperatures, according to Zespri. The places currently most suited for growing kiwifruit could change around the nation, according to a report for the Ministry for Primary Industries that was published in June. The Bay of Plenty and Northland would become too warm for reliable and high-quality fruit production in high-emission scenarios, whereas Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, and even Canterbury would become new growth hotspots. “This experiment examined how several climate change scenarios would alter the crop’s footprint in relation to where it currently grows,” stated one of the authors and crop physiologist Jill Stanley from Plant and Food Research.
“We examined a number of elements crucial to the growth of kiwifruit. Winter chill is undoubtedly one, but there is also a possibility of frost. Even though you may experience extreme winter temperature, if the blossoms that sprout in the spring are all damaged by frost, it won’t be able to thrive.” The necessity to cool the plants to a specific temperature over the winter is one of the major challenges in kiwifruit cultivation. It becomes less and less likely that the plants will be sufficiently cooled as average temperatures climb. “For healthy bud-break and bloom growth, they need a certain amount of cold. If they don’t experience that chilling, you would still have a crop, but it could not be profitable.”
A decrease in normal temperatures also reduces the likelihood of cold extremes, which reduces chilling opportunities while possibly shielding flowers from frost. Winter chilling was deemed a high-priority issue by Zespri in a 2021 declaration on climate-related hazards. In the key producing regions, persistent bud-break and king flower production may be prevented by temperature increases of 1 to 1.5 degrees by 2050. According to Rachel Depree, executive officer for sustainability at Zespri, there is currently no quantifiable evidence that climate change is having an impact on business operations. “Changes are being noticed. We are still trying to determine their nature and size. However, I believe that growers would undoubtedly tell you that the climate is changing,” she stated.
Although the company’s 2021 report is general in nature, a detailed adaption strategy is expected to be made public by the year’s end. According to Depree, the plan won’t merely concentrate on the visible effects of climate change. As markets migrate away from high-emitting produce in favour of low-carbon alternatives, it will also have to deal with transition risks. “We are aware of a segment of consumers that are really concerned about carbon thanks to our market insight study. They will grow over time, and we need to make sure we’re snatching up a piece of that carbon-conscious market while still maintaining the visibility and applicability of the Zespri kiwifruit brand for those specific consumers.”
There are a range of options available to the sector to adapt to climate impacts. Those include new cultivars of kiwifruit more resilient to warmer temperatures, traditional and new technologies to improve the consistency of bud-break (the first step in the growth of new fruit) and the relocation of production. In the warmer Northland, new breeds are being tested to determine how they might perform in the Bay of Plenty in the future. In addition to highlighting the hazards from climate change, Zespri’s sector adaptation strategy will also discuss some potential solutions. “Some risks are beginning to emerge. They require that we be ready for them. We have a lot of faith in the adaptability of our sector.”