The investment will more than double the funding available to the current research cooperation between kiwifruit marketer Zespri and crown body Plant & Food Research.
Bringing new commercial kiwifruit varieties to market is the stated aim of the research programme, according to Zespri CEO Lain Jager. The underlying hope is to develop a new kiwifruit variety that can replicate the success of Zespri Gold, now worth NZ$468m a year after just a decade on the market.
“This funding will allow us to more than double the size of the programme, and to do so in some important areas,” Mr Jager told Fruitnet.com. “For example, it will allow us to increase the number of seedlings in our programme by eight times.
“It’s about how quickly we can bring new products to the market. New product development is always a race, and this new funding will allow us to do it better and faster. We’re very excited about it.”
Zespri will provide NZ$20.5m dollars to the programme, while the government’s Foundation for Research, Science and Technology will contribute NS$15.2m, making it the largest kiwifruit research programme in the world. Current funding levels sit at around NZ$2m a year, and will increase to NZ$5.1m a year.
Mr Jager said the increase in funding was a foregone conclusion. “We were always going to have to increase the funding as the programme grew over time,” he said.
“We were talking with the New Zealand government about growing the programme, and the government has come to the table with this long term funding.”
With its investment in the programme, the New Zealand government has demonstrated its backing of plans to double the value of the country’s horticulture industry to NZ$10bn a year by 2020.
Laying out a roadmap for the next seven years of the programme, Mr Jager told Fruitnet.com that a new green variety that could possibly replace the industry standard Hayward is the first stop.
“We’re looking in particular for a new generation green variety, a really good red kiwifruit, and eventually a peelable kiwifruit,” he details.
“We could see a new green anytime from now out to five years. For a good red variety the expectation is five to seven years. The peelable variety is about 10 years away.
“What we hope for is that we can get a really good red cultivar, that could be a NZ$350-450m business within a decade of commercialisation like Zespri Gold.”
Some of the fruits of Zespri and Plant & Food Research’s current programme are due to face the final commercial decision in June next year, with a number of varieties currently in commercial block trials across New Zealand.
The boost to funding has unsurprisingly attracted a thumbs up from New Zealand’s kiwifruit growers.
“Knowing that the current and future Zespri cultivars have the best science behind them and local know-how gives us the confidence we need to map out a strong future for our orchards,” states Peter Ombler, president of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI).