Russel Lowe

Respected kiwifruit breeder and scientist at Plant & Food Research New Zealand has received the 2020 Plant Raiser's Award by the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture for the breeding and selection of 'Zesy002', better known as Zespri SunGold kiwifruit.

In a release, Plant & Food Research New Zealand credited the SunGold variety as having saved the New Zealand kiwifruit industry from a plant disease epidemic almost 10 years ago.

In receiving the recognition, Lowe said he is pleased be to be recognised by RNZIH and is grateful for the support by his colleagues at Plant & Food Research over the years.

“This breeding success has been very much a team effort by breeders, our operations team, research orchard network team and subsequent evaluation systems. It is interesting to consider how a single seedling plant produced by conventional breeding methods has developed into a multi-billion-dollar Zespri product, supporting New Zealand’s horticulture industry,” noted Lowe.

The yellow-fleshed kiwifruit was a result of Lowe’s work. Before ‘Zesy002’, the popular gold cultivar at the time, 'Hort16A', marketed as Zespri™ Gold Kiwifruit, became susceptible to the devastating Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. Actinidiae) outbreak in New Zealand.

Thousands of hectares of ‘Hort16A’ kiwifruit orchards have been destroyed since the discovery of Psa in 2010.

‘Zesy002’ was first selected for commercialisation in the Plant & Food Research-Zespri breeding programme in 2002 and commercially released in 2010. It was eventually chosen as a replacement for Hort16A for its higher tolerance to Psa and has since become one of the greatest success stories in New Zealand’s primary industries given the huge consumer demand and the strong returns it generates for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry and its partners.

The transition from 'Hort16A' to 'Zesy002' was achieved remarkably quickly, according to Plant & Food Research NZ. Over 5,000ha of 'Zesy002' orchards have been established as of 2020, producing a record 74m trays of kiwifruit.

The Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Plant Raiser's Award recognises individuals or organisations that have raised a cultivar considered to be sufficiently meritorious in New Zealand.