NZKGI Chairman Doug Brown, Plant & Food Research Chair Nicola Shadbolt, Russell Lowe, Zespri Chairman Bruce Cameron

(l-r) NZKGI chairman Doug Brown, Plant & Food Research chair Nicola Shadbolt, Russell Lowe, Zespri chairman Bruce Cameron

Renowned New Zealand kiwifruit breeder and scientist Russell Lowe has been awarded the 2020 New Zealand Kiwifruit Industry Innovation Award for his work breeding Zespri Red.

Lowe, who recently retired from his role at Plant & Food Research, first began working on the challenge of breeding a new red kiwifruit in 1993, for the new varieties breeding programme jointly run by Plant & Food Research and Zespri.

The country’s first commercialised red kiwifruit cultivar was first planted at the Kerikeri Research Centre in 2007, it was commercialised in December 2019 following many years of research, including exploring the fruit’s tolerance to Psa.

Bruce Cameron, awards judge and chairman of Zespri, said Low epitomised innovation within the industry, not just with his work on developing the red cultivar, but throughout his distinguished career.

“Russell’s success in developing this red cultivar has again enabled the New Zealand kiwifruit industry to provide the market with a new, distinctive great-tasting fruit which will strengthen kiwifruit’s share of the global fruit bowl in the years ahead,” said Cameron.

“Innovation drives continued industry growth which leads to stronger returns for growers, greater employment opportunities across New Zealand’s growing regions and increased contributions to regional communities across the country.”

Fellow judge and chair of Kiwifruit New Zealand, Kristy McDonald, said Lowe’s successful development of a red cultivar reaffirmed the industry’s reputation for innovation.

“Lowe’s efforts in developing this new cultivar reflects the strong sense of innovation that characterises the New Zealand kiwifruit industry,” said McDonald.

“The red cultivar will help extend seasonal employment opportunities given its early season harvest, and also enable the better use of industry facilities and infrastructure.

Outgoing NZKGI chairman and fellow judge Doug Brown also joined in praising Lowe and said his breeding success with the red cultivar would become more apparent in future years as growers’ knowledge of the variety’s optimal growing conditions increases and more markets retail the fruit.

Lowe said he was pleased and honoured to be recognised and was grateful for the support from his colleagues at Plant & Food Research and Zespri.

“This breeding success has been very much a team effort by breeders, our operations team, research orchard network teams and subsequent evaluation systems,” said Lowe.

“Developing a commercial quality red kiwifruit has been quite a mission, as much of our breeding material was lost during the Psa epidemic. However, by using the remaining Psa-tolerant parent vines we have been able to develop advanced material leading to the release of Zespri Red.

“The joint research partnership between Plant & Food Research and Zespri has been the key to the support of the breeding programme and the subsequent success in releasing world-class varieties for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry. I feel we can expect to see more innovative varieties released in future from our strong breeding and research teams.”