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Kiwifruit carbon in the spotlight

By Elaine Fisher - 17th August 20090

A project to measure carbon levels in kiwifruit orchards and assist market access for the fruit will be launched at a grower meeting in Tauranga on Thursday.

Funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund and carried out by the Carbon in Orchard Soils Team (Cost), the project is seeking growers keen to volunteer their orchards for the three-year study.

"The project will quantify the above and below-ground carbon storage in kiwifruit orchards, and we believe this improved knowledge will contribute to the eco-verification of New Zealand's image as a clean-green producer of kiwifruit," said Allister Holmes, of Cost.

There was growing concern in offshore markets that many existing land management practices for food production were releasing additional carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
"If it can be demonstrated that in New Zealand the production of kiwifruit can maintain or increase carbon storage in the soil then this may allow greater differentiation of our products in environmentally-concerned markets such as Europe."
Increasing carbon levels in the soil may have other economic benefits for growers including a reduced need for fertiliser and irrigation, improved plant health and production.

In all, 73 orchards, including those producing green, gold and organic fruit, will form part of the study overseen by soil scientist from Plant & Food, the Agricultural Research Group on Sustainability (Argos), the PlusGroup and local and regional councils, and involving up to 18 researchers.

"The main focus will be on orchards in the Bay of Plenty but we will also be taking samples from orchards in Northland, South Auckland, Eastern Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Tasman districts.
"The project will look at orchards which are BioGro certified to those using biological management systems, to conventional orchards."

Mr Holmes said while the project team didn't want to get caught up in the political football that carbon had become, it was obvious that carbon was now an issue for major kiwifruit customers, including the supermarket chains Walmart and Tesco.
"At some stage in the future, if customers ask for information on the carbon footprint of growing kiwifruit we will be able to supply that, thanks to this study," he said.
"Because of the disorganised nature of the Chilean kiwifruit industry it is unlikely our major competitor will have the kind of information the market wants but the New Zealand industry will."
Mr Holmes said no research had been done into the carbon sequestration of soils in kiwifruit orchards and he believed the findings might surprise some people.

"To date most research on carbon in soils has only looked to a depth of 150mm to 300mm but we have found considerable amounts of carbon at up to one metre deep, and expect there will be carbon beyond that depth as well."

The study follows an earlier one which looked at the carbon footprint of the kiwifruit industry from orchard to the marketplace.

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