AN APPLE A DAY Ask anyone whether organic growing methods are better for biodiversity, and you’re sure to get a resounding 'yes' from most people. A new Plant & Food Research project has compared the biodiversity of modern ‘best practice’ apple orchards with their organic counterparts…and the results are surprising. Researcher Dr Louise Malone and her team were interested in the impact of the Integrated Fruit Production system on plants and insects, and to compare IFP orchards’ biodiversity directly with organic orchards. The team surveyed plants and 210,000 insects caught in traps in 15 Hawke’s Bay orchards, and Malone says those managed using IFP had similar or even slightly better biodiversity index scores than the organic orchards. Working in partnership with grower organisation New Zealand Apples & Pears, scientists and growers developed the IFP system in the 1990s specifically to control pests that would have the lowest impact on the environment. A range of practices, such as monitoring pest numbers with pheromone traps, minimised the use of chemicals, making the best use of what is now the main weapon against pest species: carefully-vetted introduced natural enemies, or biological control agents. Malone’s team found insect species sometimes differed between the IFP and organic orchards, but every orchard had ample species to carry out ecological functions such as nutrient cycling and pest control. She says the outstanding result was that the traps collected around 10 times more Froggatt’s apple leafhoppers – a serious pest causing leaf damage and affecting buds and fruit development - in organic orchards than in the IFP orchards. “There were no differences in the abundance and diversity of the key natural enemies that help to keep apple pests in check,” Malone says. “This result shows IFP is protecting those beneficial species as intended. IFP works – and probably even better than we had hoped. The fauna 8 OCTOBER 2017 in IFP orchards is just as rich as it is in organic orchards, and that’s great news for the way we operate our orchards and for our brand overseas.” Study author Libby Burgess says it was pleasing to see that native or endemic species made up around 40% of the total in all orchard types. “That’s what overseas markets want to see - that biodiversity and especially local flora and fauna are protected - and that is what we’ve got.” The study has been published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.
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