Visiting agronomists and expertise to New Zealand over summer

April 23, 2024

Towards the end of 2023 and into the start of 2024, Onions New Zealand had the pleasure of hosting two well-known onion experts from the United Kingdom and Cornell University, Andy Richardson and Frank Hay.
Andy, an agronomist based in the UK, specializes in onions and brassicas and consults in Eastern Europe and parts of Africa. Andy visited at the end of 2023, his visit brought a dose of international expertise into the local agricultural scene, leaving a lasting impression on growers across the regions, conducting a series of insightful grower sessions and field walks across key regions including Pukekohe, Hawkes Bay and Ashburton. His presentations provided practical insights into crop health, pest management, and disease control. Andy's engaging talks made the experience both informative and enjoyable. Andy addressed the specific challenges encountered by New Zealand growers, providing solutions and practical strategies to develop their practices.

One of the topics of interest for North Island onion growers was irrigation and moisture for plants. An integral part of growing, that alleviates plant stress, good irrigation management tips and tricks allow for a healthy crop that can better manage pest and disease pressure. Andy emphasized that there is a lot more to learn about the relationship between moisture stress and plant health when you have some data on soil type and soil moisture.
Moreover, Andy also engaged with agronomists, growers, and staff from major vegetable growers, Balle Brothers Ltd and Leaderbrand Produce to name a few. These one-on-one sessions allowed individual agronomists and growers to raise specific and technical questions about the challenges they see in the paddock.  

James Kuperus, CEO of Onions New Zealand, emphasized the valuable insights gained from Andy Richardson's visit, particularly in enhancing understanding of onion plant resilience and the importance of ensuring adequate water supply to prevent plant stress.

Reflecting on these recent grower sessions and field days, it is encouraging to see a good grower turnout.
Andy Richardson's' visit supports the work that onion and vegetable growers are putting in to continuously improve and redefine what best practice is, where better-growing outcomes equate to more efficient use of inputs and more sustainable growing practices.  

Transitioning into the new year, the agricultural community welcomed Frank Hay, renowned Onion and Potato expert from Cornell University. Frank's visit focused on sharing invaluable insights and practical solutions tailored to onion and potato cultivation.

As a Senior Extension Associate specializing in Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Frank's expertise brought a wealth of experience to the table. His workshops and sessions, held in Pukekohe and Ashburton, two crucial agricultural regions in New Zealand, addressed key issues of disease faced by onion and potato growers.

Throughout the workshops, he delved into a range of topics, from combating Stemphylium leaf blight in onions to tackling root-knot and lesion nematodes in potatoes. Stemphylium leaf blight is a disease that affects the leaves of the onion, causing leaves to turn prematurely yellow. This makes it difficult for the plant to photosynthesize and affects plant health. Thus leaving the plant vulnerable to other diseases and a decline in yield and quality. This becomes an important part of the conversation when discussing disease control, especially with continuously changing climatic conditions.

Frank had further meetings with New Zealand agronomists and scientists to catch up on the technicalities of disease research and methodology. This makes sure we are up-to-date on scientific practice, and leveraging on our colleague's findings from the US to accelerate research and hone priorities.

Kazi Talaska, Project Coordinator from Onions New Zealand, emphasized key takeaways from her experiences with both agronomists:   "Growers and agronomists work hard to continue to improve best practices, what makes growing more efficient and makes for fewer inputs, better quality crop, and a consistent supply to the New Zealand market and beyond. Having expertise like Andy and Frank helps this mission, plus puts some other tools in our box and promotes new ways of thinking and problem-solving on-farm. Those one-on-one conversations with growers are really valuable."

Overall, the sector has benefitted from the knowledge and outside perspective that we gain from international expertise.

These trips this summer were supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries North Island Weather Events Fund. Watch a video interview with Andy Richardson now.

Field walks with Andy Richardson
Field walks with Frank Hay

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