Press Release •  27/02/2023

Sheltered coastal haven hosts far-reaching research

Written By Kathy Davis 
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Waireka – custom-built plant disease paradise and world-class testing ground.

Down a no exit road near the Taranaki coast is a special place every plant disease dreams of visiting.

In fact, they’re welcomed on site with open arms. If conditions aren’t perfect when fungi first arrive, someone’s on hand to remedy the situation immediately. There’s loads of room, no end of susceptible plants to infect, and rampant proliferation is not only permitted, but encouraged.

Welcome to Waireka Research Center, a custom-built plant disease paradise

and world-class testing ground for both early-stage discovery and near-release crop protection products from Corteva AgriScience. At 36 ha, with no less than 48 different

trial blocks, each enclosed by five metre hedgerows to protect them from the legendary local westerly, Waireka is a key node in Corteva’s large global R&D network.

Manager Brian Husband says there’s nothing else quite like it in Australasia. He’s worked there since 2009, and heads a team of six. Their prime focus is efficacy research, with some work on crop safety. And the products they study include Corteva’s most promising potential new active ingredients for the global market, as well as those with a distinct NZ fit that require biological data to support regulatory approval in this country. In this context, Husband says, being able to pile on the disease pressure is a priority. “If you want to look for small differences between treatments, you need high

pressure! So a lot of our practices actively encourage disease here. “We will irrigate our crops, and put misters on top of trees and vines to help create the right conditions for infections to take holdand spread; we prune our apples and grapes to make them more susceptible to disease. We need crop quality to host strong disease pressure.”

As well as permanent crops of apples and grapes, Waireka grows wheat, barley and vegetables such as brassicas, potatoes, tomatoes and onions, plus clover and ryegrass.

Disease may be a high priority, but it’s not the only one; at this time of the season, Husband says, like commercial growers and farmers across New Zealand, the team’s field emphasis is turning from fungicide programmes to insecticides. Now that the borders are open again, the local contingent has been joined this summer by a Corteva field scientist from Spain, as Waireka’s international science sabbatical programme resumes after a hiatus. “It’s an excellent transfer of knowledge within the greater R&D network,” Husband says. “Our visiting scientists bring new ideas to share with us from the Northern Hemisphere, and take home insights from our operation here.”

Brian Husband, and visiting field scientist Marta Benito from Spain.
Brian Husband, and visiting field scientist Marta Benito from Spain.
Brian Husband, and visiting field scientist Marta Benito from Spain.
Brian Husband, and visiting field scientist Marta Benito from Spain.

When the 2022/23 field trials up at Waireka in autumn, Corteva R&D specialists in the Northern Hemisphere are standing by for data analysis and results so they can advance their own summer trial programmes. It’s this counter-seasonal effect of helping the company achieve two growing seasons in every 12 month cycle that helps make Waireka so important to Corteva’s global R&D effort, Husband says. Likewise the station’s ability to grow healthy crops: “By world standards, NZ crop production is in itself very small. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get all the key diseases here that are of major economic importance to the bigger growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere.” In other words, NZ-based research makes an important contribution to Corteva’s development of new crop protection for some of the world’s most consumed food staples. "We are very fortunate to have this worldclass R&D facility on our doorstep,” says Corteva NZ general manager Richard Brenton-Rule. “The ability to develop new solutions for the world and local markets, in NZ, keeps us at the forefront of developing technologies and allows us to adapt to ever changing markets.”