New tech tool for apple and grape growers forecasts disease risk in warming climate

A new tech tool for apple and grape growers could be a game-changer in forecasting the risk of disease in a warming climate.

It's believed to be the first of its kind, and will estimate how climate change may affect the risk and costs of living with common plant diseases in different parts of New Zealand.

Horticulture is a vital part of the economy and brings in billions of export bucks, but the plants are vulnerable to many diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis in grapes, and fire blight in apples.

The diseases can cause a loss in fruit and damage to trees. To find out if growers will be hit by those three diseases under a warmer climate, a free interactive tool has been developed.

"In simple terms it's a portal into the future," said Mike Barley, the director of New Zealand agri-tech company HortPlus.

"It helps with climate adaptation planning and provides easy-to-digest information for people in the apple and winegrowing industry who want to understand how plant disease risks are likely to change, and importantly, what the cost implications of those changes might be."

HortPlus created the tool in collaboration with Plant and Food Research, NIWA, the Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit and Applied Research and Technologies.

Plant and Food Research senior scientist Dion Mundy said it will give people very exact information for their location.

"You can put your address in and tells you within your five kilometres what's your risk," he said.

So those making a living from the land can better understand climate change's impacts.

"The more information you have the better decisions you can make, but growers sleep best when their fruit is being picked," said Mundy.

The economic modelling used took a range of factors into account, including likely increases or decreases in the costs of disease control measures, such as spraying, as well as changes in crop yield that might result in different climatic conditions. The tool is also expected to help central and local government planners to understand how plant disease risk is changing at a regional and national level, and how much it might cost to mitigate those risks in the future.