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Looking overseas for downy mildew control options for orchards and vineyards

Fruitfed Supplies team members looking at Australian apple orchard

Looking overseas for downy mildew control options for orchards and vineyards

In a year when there’s been so much more downy mildew to manage in our vineyards than usual, a recent BASF study tour to South Australia provided a timely reminder that we could have several more tools at our disposal.

“Seeing the extra options Australian growers have for downy mildew control really sparked a lot of thought and interest,” says Richard Rutherford, an ag-chem Product Manager for Fruitfed Supplies. “We probably need to organise the work and get some runs on the board, so we can get some of those products registered for downy over here as well. Especially when some of our current options might not be there in the future. Mancozeb’s just fallen out of favour in Europe so we can’t necessarily continue relying on older products like that.”

Richard and four of his Fruitfed Supplies colleagues joined two members of the BASF horticultural team on a five-day trip to visit vineyards, apple orchards, and the Australian Wine Research Institute in early March.

There was plenty to see and discuss, but of course downy mildew control is a particularly hot topic in a year when managing the disease is even an issue around Marlborough. It’s a more common and damaging disease in Australia, and accounts for a higher proportion of all their fungicide applications in what is generally a much lighter spray programme than most local growers would use.

Richard points out that several products used by Australian growers are already registered in other crops here, so it’s a question of working with BASF and other ag-chem companies to organise trial work in grapes across locations and conditions where downy mildew is likely to occur.

Eutypa dieback is another significant challenge in the typically older Australian vines that is also becoming an issue here. Richard was impressed by the successful use of retrunking and other strategies to reinvigorate the affected vines.

The loss of the Chinese market has hit the Australian wine industry very hard, a reminder to the visiting New Zealanders that industry economics can change dramatically in a short timespan. 
“There was something like 30 percent of the Australian wine going into the Chinese market,” Richard explains. “So that’s left a huge gap and a lot of blocks are being mothballed or cleared of vines and left fallow. But things are very positive here. Luckily the world still can’t get enough Sauvignon Blanc!”

Richard also observes that the apple growers they visited during this study tour were quite progressive and on par with our local orchard management practices. “I was impressed. They were using similar set-ups and a lot of the same technology. The big difference is that they are mostly supplying the domestic market where we are exporting so much more. There were a couple of different varieties from what we see in New Zealand, but in some cases apples with different names have very similar parentage to ours. We did see one red-fleshed apple they’re trialling. The colour was interesting, but the taste wasn’t appealing!”

The New Zealanders also noted the Australian growers’ increased use of concrete posts to replace wooden ones. These were sourced from Italy, but the growers had to develop their own specialised equipment to knock them into the ground. While the visitors’ consensus was that concrete posts could be good solution, Richard thinks the strong trend towards steel posts over here has built up a lot of momentum and most growers aren’t looking beyond wood and steel as their options.

Overall, Richard thinks the tour was a worthwhile exercise. “Everyone on the trip came away with a few fresh pearls of wisdom to share with others. There was also a strong and reassuring overall impression that growers in both countries are exploring similar solutions to similar challenges.”