Government research funding invests in Scion

9 September 2013

The Government backs a forest industry/Scion partnership to build the tools that will ensure the industry continues to sustain its international competitiveness, grow its contribution to GDP and continue to provide ecosystem services to the nation.

Recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) funding announcements will underpin the research and development investment needed to help the forest industry’s aim to more than double current export returns to $12 billion by 2022.

As the forest industry’s lead research provider Scion was awarded $20.25 million over six years to develop, in conjunction with industry, a precision forestry approach for management of planted radiata pine and $10.05 million to accelerate research into plant diseases that can seriously harm radiata pine, kauri trees and horticultural tree species.

The larger project, co-funded by industry, is named “Growing confidence in forestry’s future”. The project intends to achieve precision management of Pinus radiata forests to enhance productivity in the most sustainable way. This approach will integrate the latest advances in sensor technology (such as identifying and monitoring individual trees using remote sensing), tree physiology, genetics, forest ecology and complex problem-solving. The project aims to: identify interventions that will maximise current benefit; double the growth productivity of future forests while improving wood quality and consistency; and ensure sale of New Zealand forest products to international markets by demonstrating that intensified forest management practices are environmentally and socially sustainable.

Importantly, these outcomes also align with Government’s Vision Matauranga goals to build economic wealth and employment opportunities for Māori, as well as supporting Māori aspirations for their land.

To conduct the work Scion has assembled an accomplished team of New Zealand and international experts from Scion, universities, other Crown research institutes and industry. The team will be led by Drs Peter Clinton and John Moore from Scion.

Protecting New Zealand’s primary industries and conservation estates from current and future diseases is the aim of the Scion-led plant diseases research project. The spotlight will be on Phytophthora diseases, which are a huge biosecurity challenge worldwide owing to the range of plants they affect, rapid global spread, sweeping impacts and high costs to manage.

In New Zealand there are three major Phytophthora diseases of trees: kauri dieback, red needle cast of radiata pine and crown and collar rots of apples. This project will protect New Zealand’s trees by focussing research in plant breeding to improve disease resistance, disease management and fundamental knowledge of the mechanisms of tree defence to Phytophthora species.

Led by Dr Nari Williams, the project will bring together key New Zealand researchers and international specialists working in the management of Phytophthora pathogens, and will involve conservation managers, forestry and horticultural industries. This project will build New Zealand’s capacity to respond to current and emerging Phytophthora threats, and will see New Zealand become a world leader in addressing the complex issues of Phytophthora management in trees.

Another Government investment of $2.5 million over five years to the Radiata Pine Breeding Company (RPBC) will result in new technologies that will reduce the time it takes to breed and commercially plant improved pine trees. RPBC has formed a partnership between forestry organisations, Scion and the University of Canterbury to research and develop the new technologies.

The Biopolymer Network Ltd (a joint venture between Scion, AgResearch and Plant and Food Research) was also awarded $17 million by MBIE to continue its ground-breaking work in developing resins and foams from biological materials and also to develop a green processing approach that enhances the performance of fibres and polymers.