Vege grower set to spray it with flowers

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 09:41 11/02/2014
Flowering plants alongside crops grown by Snap Fresh Foods near Huntly are being used to attract insects that prey on the leaf miner pest.
Fairfax NZ

KILLER FLOWERS: Flowering plants alongside crops grown by Snap Fresh Foods near Huntly are being used to attract insects that prey on the leaf miner pest.

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Flower power will be the new secret weapon for Snap Fresh Foods in its battle against insect pests.

The company grows Asian baby-leaf brassicas, such as mizuna, tatsoi and mustards, as well as wild rocket, at its Rangiriri site just north of Huntly.

It has formed a partnership with Lincoln University to test the pest-killing attributes of flowers to promote biodiversity and reduce the use of pesticides.

The flowers are being used to attract the right kind of killer insects.

A major issue for Snap Fresh is leaf miner, the larvae from numerous fly species which live between the upper and lower leaf surfaces. The pests eat the leaf tissue in a way that leaves distinctive trails.

Notoriously difficult to control, leaf miner, while not affecting the yield, does undermine the cosmetic attributes of the leaf, resulting in a notable blemish which is undesirable to some consumers.

The study, headed by Lincoln University professor of ecology Steve Wratten and PhD candidate Ryan Rayl, will explore ways in which particular flowering plants can be used to attract insects which feed off leaf miner, such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps.

"The goal of the project is to create strategically placed strips of various flower species among the cropped areas to provide pollen and nectar for insect predators with a taste for leaf miner, not to mention encourage the presence of particular parasites which live off the larvae as well," Wratten said.

From these flowers, the leaf miner's insect enemies get protein from pollen to help produce eggs, as well as nectar for energy.

"The aim is to build up a 'bank' of predatory insects prior to growing the commercial crop," he said.

The flowering plants currently being evaluated for the project include the common garden flower, alyssum, buckwheat and phacelia, all of which have a proven track record in vineyards.

As well as the cost-saving benefits from such an approach, the company's ultimate goal was to move towards a sustainable horticultural enterprise, producing residue-free foods, Snap Fresh Foods director Ashley Berrysmith said.

"It's important to try to move towards sustainable, chemical-free production if possible.

"Our vision for the company is to roll out a biodiversity model for pest control across the entire business," he said. "This can only happen by taking a sound, scientific approach."

Having flowering plants throughout their plantations would add visual appeal and go some way to tell the story of what Snap Fresh Foods strived to be, he said.

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- Waikato Times

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