New Zealand Seed Industry News

This page features a compilation and selection of New Zealand seed industry news briefs, summaries and leads, with an emphasis on events that impact or affect provinces, regions, counties, cities and locales in and of the island country of Maori Aotearoa, AKA New Zealand. 

The news covers trends and events regarding seed regulation, testing, legislation, phytosanitary issues, intellectual property rights, biotechnology (genomics, gene-editing) plant breeding, agronomy and cropping, with original sources linked.

This page will be updated throughout the year, with most recent briefs listed first.


Q3 NEWS

Snap lockdown announced: Aug 17: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the closing of schools, offices, and all businesses except essential services after New Zealand recorded its first positive case of Covid-19 in 6 months. A 58-year-old man tested positive for the virus in Auckland, which will be locked down for a week, while the rest of the country is locked down for 3 days. Only 20% of New Zealand’s population has been fully vaccinated. Original story here 

Antarctic blast blizzard: August 9: Near-record levels of snow fell on the ski slopes of the South Island triggering avalanche warnings as snow was reported to fall at sea level in Wellington as an Antarctic blast swept over the country. The freezing winds caused power failures triggered due to unusually high demand as well as downed power lines causing outages in Wellington, Kapiti Coast, Palmerston North, Taupo, New Plymouth, Taranaki, Hamilton, Napier, Hastings, Auckland and Whang─ürei. The events call into question New Zealand's recently awarded status as the best country to survive a global collapse, as the recent extreme cold weather stresses the country's infrastructure. Original story here 

PepMV halts tomato export: July 27: An outbreak of Pepino mosaic virus (PepMV) that began at a greenhouse in Auckland has caused tomato exports to be blocked by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). PepMV can affect crop yield and limit growth. David Yard, the MPI response controller, stated PepMV had spread to four glasshouses and authorities were working to contain the outbreak by implementing biosecurity measures such as increased hygiene and sterilising equipment, particularly equipment that is used in transportation such as crates. Authorities are hopeful exports can resume before October. Original story here 

New Zealand PVR Bill under consultation: July 14: Following the introduction of a new Plant Variety Rights Bill to Parliament in May, the consultation period has now opened, a process that will conclude on 25 August 2021. Proposed regulations for the bill  “mostly address procedural issues relating to matters such as applications for, and examination of, proposed new varieties; time limits for paying fees, and providing information and propagating material; compulsory licences; and hearings.” The new Bill will replace the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 19 May 2021, modernizing the regime with provisions that ensure New Zealand fulfills its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi  as well as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). According to the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association NZGSTA, the Bill implements these provisions by:

• extending the term of protection for woody plants to 25 years (the minimum required by UPOV 91) while retaining the term of 20 years for other species:

• extending the rights to harvested material only when the rights holder has not had a reasonable opportunity to assert their rights in relation to the propagating material from which it is derived:

• exempting farm-saved seed (the seed that farmers save from one season’s crop to plant the next season’s crop) from coverage of a PVR (while providing that regulations may limit this exemption in the future):

• defining an EDV as a variety that does not exhibit any important (as opposed to cosmetic) features that differentiate it from the initial variety it was derived from. 

A consultation document concerning proposed regulations also seeks feedback on the proposed list of ‘non-indigenous species of significance’. The consultation document is available via Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 Review: Proposed Regulations

On June 29, The International Seed Federation, along with CIOPORA, Crop Life International, APSA (Asia and Pacific Seed Alliance), AFSTA (African Seed Trade Association) and NZGSTA (the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association)

submitted a letter to concerned New Zealand regulators to express concern on behalf of the international seed industry, specifically about proposed definition and narrow scope of EDVs. For specific inquiries or comments about the new bill, please contact the NZGSTA via their website. 

NZGSTA names Agronomist of the Year

Kerry Thomas (left) and Ed Luisetti, NZGSTA Grains and Pulses Chair

July 7: Agronomist of the Year Award for wheat industry announced Kerry Thomas of Luisetti Seeds was recognised as agronomist of the year in the United Wheat Growers Bayer Wheat Awards held in Christchurch on Wednesday 7 July. The award was open to all industry professionals involved in seed and grain crop production.The Agronomist of the Year Award, sponsored by the NZ Grain & Seed Trade Association, is designed to recognise an agronomist who has an endless knowledge of crop production and goes above and beyond to make sure the best possible crop is produced by growers said NZGSTA Grains & Pulses Chair Ed Luisetti. “We are just a few weeks on from drilling the autumn wheat crops which are starting to take off with growth. There is still a lot of time before the crops will mature in late summer and will be ready to harvest next year but agronomists will continue to work with growers to manage their crops to get the best possible production. “New Zealand arable growers can always access the best agronomic advice and knowledge in the industry. Our members are always looking to deliver the best outcomes for growers to ensure NZ remains the best world market,” says Mr Luisetti. The awards were judged by Richard Grigor a former wheat buyer for Champion Flour Milling and trader with ABB/Viterra Grain.

2021 NZ Grains and Pulses Forum: June 15: The NZ Grain and Seed Trade Association hosted its annual Grains and Pulses Forum held at the Lincoln Events Centre on 15 June. Nearly 100 merchants, suppliers, growers, grain end users and other industry professionals attended the event, which was developed and hosted by the NZGSTA.

Grains and Pulses chair, Ed Luisetti said he was pleased with the turn out as it was an important annual fixture bringing industry colleagues together to discuss and collaborate around key challenges and opportunities in the sector. Moreover, hosting the forum reinforces the importance of the sector to New Zealand, he said. 

“Our cereals industry has produced record wheat yields, with a mid-Canterbury grower harvesting a paddock that averaged an incredible 17.4 tonnes a hectare of wheat. Most NZ irrigated wheat averages around 12t/ha.

"Underpinning the industry is the top class breeding of new and improved cultivars to help growers improve their productivity and profitability.

The forum brought together eight expert speakers.

Nick Tuffley – from the ASB bank opened the forum with an outlook on the NZ agri market.

The TwoRawSisters Margo and Rosa Flanagan gave a humorous talk on plant based foods trends.

Rachel Baker a Kellogg Rural Leader and ag consultant address was on NZ grain versus palm kernel.

Khan Sayer from Viterra NZ talked about imported feed trends and opportunities for the NZ feed grain industry.

Heinz Watties crop supply agronomist Simon McCormick talked about pea market trends.

Other speakers included Colin Hurst from Federated Farmers and Brian Leadley representing United Wheat Growers who provided perspectives and insights from a growers’ point of view.

The forum concluded with a BBQ lunch kindly sponsored by Mainfreight Air & Ocean and Owens Transport which gave attendees opportunity to network and refresh contacts with their peers and colleagues.

Luisetti said the cereals and pulses sector remains a vital component of the arable industry. Figures from StatsNZ shows New Zealand growers produced 994,000 tonnes of wheat, barley, oats and maize grain from 112,000 hectares in the 2020 harvest.


Q2 NEWS

Apple crop outlook smudged by cooler, stormy summer: May 20: Hopes for a record apple harvest have been slashed by the prevalence of cooler temperatures and hailstorms this summer. Citing a May 12 report from the USDA, NZ apple production in 2020-2021 season is estimated to have dropped by 8% from the previous year’s 543,000 metric tons. Moreover, the USDA also notes “severe labor shortages during harvest.” linked to Covid-19. Full details here

Plant Variety Rights Bill to grow NZ agriculture: 14 May 202: A new Plant Variety Rights Bill is under consideration by the New Zealand Parliament. According to industry sources, the new Bill was submitted earlier this month, and would update the current 34-year-old legislation, which was enacted in 1987. “Plant breeders are pleased to see the Plant Variety Rights Bill introduced into Parliament this week,” opens a press release from the Plant Breeding & Research Association, whose GM, Thomas Chin, is also GM for the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA). “The reform bill is required under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) that obliges the Government to align our plant laws with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) 91 convention. UPOV 91 is in operation with our key trading partners and signatory countries such as Australia, Canada, Mexico and Japan. 

“Overall, the Bill aims to better safeguard intellectual property rights pertaining to the breeding of new plant varieties.

Two priority areas for plant breeders include confirming a seed royalty fee for farm saved seed and beefed up sanctions that can deter infringers.

On the former, the bill paves the way for acknowledging the longstanding practice of farmers saving seed for their own use. In return and where the saved seed is a protected variety plant breeders will be seeking a fair and equitable remuneration though the payment of a royalty fee.

“Having the ability to collect a royalty fee would help new investment into the development and release of new and improved crop varieties that are less susceptible to various pests, resistant to disease, more productive and profitable for farmers” said says David Green, President of the Plant Breeding and Research Association.

Plant breeders say they look forward to engaging with farmer groups to work through transition arrangements and refining the royalties collection mechanism.

A strengthened penalty regime in respect of infringements of breeders’ rights is also being sought by the industry. Breaches of the industry’s intellectual property rights threatens innovation and the livelihoods of breeders and farmers alike.

“We support the bill as it will be the first comprehensive review of the PVR Act since the 1980s and demonstrate to the world that NZ has robust plant protection laws.

“When passed the new legislation should build breeders confidence and encourage the introduction of more improved varieties for the benefit of farmers and make New Zealand more competitive” says Mr Green.

For further information, please contact Cell: 021 679989. This report was also carried by Scoop NZ here.

Hi-tech seed processing plant opened: May 12: The culmination of three years of work, Luisetti Seeds’ cutting-edge seed-dressing plant in Ashburton was officially opened by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Luisetti Seeds production director Vincent Luisetti, and Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown with many of those who worked on getting the plant installed also in attendance. The plant is the first of its kind in New Zealand and 4,500 tonnes of additional crops has been grown to make use of the new plant. "It’s truly, truly impressive," remarked Mr O’Connor after witnessing the plant in action. Luisetti Seeds sees the investment as giving the company an edge in a highly competitive industry. The plant, produced by Petkus, includes a seed-cleaning, treating and packing production line that can process 3.5 tonnes of ryegrass and over 20 tonnes of grain per hour. This is compared to around 1 tonne per hour using existing machinery, although the plant is set to run at 10 tonnes per hour to allow staff to keep up. The machinery is fully automated and online, and can even be operated remotely by Petkus engineers in Germany. Original story here 

NZ contributes $200k for flood-affected Timor-Leste: May 6: The government of New Zealand has made a US$200,000 contribution to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which will be used towards humanitarian assistance efforts in Timor-Leste, which has been impacted by COVID-19 and floods induced by torrential rains brought by Cyclone Seroja, which have compromised accessibility to nutritious food. “With thousands of acres of agricultural land still submerged by floods, a poor harvest of maize and other crops is inevitable. The money will be use to procure high energy biscuits, support nutrition screening for families in evacuation centres, and storing and distributing emergency nutrition supplies. See news here.

Soil, climate study pitches horticulture crops: May 4: A study on alternative land uses, commissioned by The Tararua District Council and conducted by AgFirst, pitched blueberries, hazelnuts, cider apples and feijoas as suitable for growing successfully in the district, citing compatible soil quality, climate and economics. See full story here. 

Smith Seeds appoints new GM, prepares for future growth
New Zealand’s Smith Seeds has promoted Dayle Jemmett as the company’s new General Manager. Dayle, who has been with the company for 18 years, has advanced through progressively with increased responsibility in all aspects of the business: He will continue in his role as Manager for Smith Seeds’ subsidiary company, Premium Peas Ltd, oversee seed production for both companies as well as account manager for the firm’s European customers. Company directors Ross and Grant Smith see the appointment as “a significant step in the company’s succession strategy to ensure a consistently strong business into the future.” Ross continues to serve as the Board Director, while Grant will continue to steer the company as Managing Director, and as the main contact for Asian customers. To help lighten the load for what is looking to be a busy Autumn 2021 season, the company has also welcomed three new staff – Steve Chapman, Brad Quinlan and Tania Smith – who bring a “considerable depth of knowledge and experience within the agricultural industry”. The company has also released conceptual designs for its new office and warehouse in the Ashburton Business Estate, with construction planned to commence in the near future.  For more information and other news from Smith Seeds, see their recent newsletter

Horticulture sector labor shortage, losses loom: April 21: Horticulture farm and orchard operators are warning that the industry may suffe significant losses due to the shortage of labor.  Thus, sector representatives have called on the Government and Immigration Minister to allow more Pacific Island workers into the country in the year ahead, so as to avoid hitting a crisis point. “The apple industry alone is already predicting losses upwards of $600 million, with the national crop forecasts down 14% on 2020.” Growers have predicted potential direct losses of up to NZ$1.1 billion and a labour deficit of 11,000 workers in March 2021. See original story here

New Zealand homegrown milling wheat shake-up: 12 April: New Zealand’s home-grown milling wheat breeding and production industry has expressed concern about anticipated impacts of “significant adjustments to the trading dynamics”. As reported in length by Farmers Weekly, South Island wheat growers have been informed that milling contracts for the 2022 season would not be facilitated through a direct-purchase brokerage arrangement, as previously, but through “a large scale Australian-based, integrated commodity merchandising and supply management company”. Under the conventional contracting process,  farmers work closely with grain and seed companies who breed the seed, sell to growers and market the grain, and “need these seed companies in their integrated systems for crops other than milling wheat…”  The South Island reportedly is producing 110,000 tonnes of milling wheat. NZ Grain and Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA) general manager Thomas Chin has advocated for NZ-grown grain, while the industry has warned that “If seed companies are discontinued in the contracting of milling wheat between farmer and mill, the entire NZ milling wheat breeding effort is at great risk and the financial implications may cause these breeding programmes to be shut down entirely.” Discussion amongst stakeholders is ongoing. More details in the original article here

NZGSTA March/April newsletter: A number of important New Zealand seed industry updates are covered in the New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association’s latest newsletter, including: on a bill to reform the Plant Variety Rights Act, which has been finalised, and expected to be introduced to Parliament by the end of April or early May; the future of some select chemicals, including neonicotinoid, is being mulled in an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; The NZGSTA’s special general meeting on 30 March, in which members voted and agreed for the association to contribute NZ$100,000 to the New Zealand Seed Authority, “towards the delivery of the new Seed Certification Information System (SCIS) databas”; In February, the Ministry of Primary Industries lifting the suspension of imports of Capsicum (capsicum) and Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) seeds for sowing of Israel-origin; and the NZGSTA welcoming to the Council a new co-opted general councillor, Stephen Bennett from PGWS. Read details on these and more from NZGSTA here.


Q1 NEWS

NZ seed exports up 4.6% in 2020: The value of New Zealand seed exports increased by 4.6% in 2020 compared to a year earlier, to record $250m in receipts according to the NZ Grain & Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA). Latest data issued by StatsNZ, shows seed export values have grown 44% from $173m five years ago. Whilst NZ exports more than 30 different seed types internationally pasture seed and vegetable seed were the key export categories. Read the full story by NZGSTA here

Record for ryegrass proprietary pasture seed: According to Calendar year 2020 sales figures from the Plant Breeding and Research Association (PBRA), over 10,700 tonnes of branded proprietary pasture seed was sold to farmers, which is 21% more than 2015. This was the strongest sales year on record. Proprietary seed, which comes with built-in technological advances to increase performance, is increasingly recognised as the one of the best investment farmers can make in their land. Read full story by NZGSTA here.

NZGSTA gets new president: At a New Zealand Grain and Seed Trade Association (NZGSTA) Council meeting in December, 2020 Michael Hales (Barenbrug) was unanimously elected President of the Association. He takes on the role until the Association’s Annual General Meeting to be held in October 2021. The election was called following the resignation of the association’s previous president George Gerard. Evan Johnson will continue as Vice President and the filling of the vacant General Councilor role will be advised shortly. For full council list, see NZGSTA website here.

Seed Certification stats, PVP Amendment Bill and NZGSTA Conference 2021: A recent newsletter by the NZGSTA has shared stats showing that nearly 40,000 hectares of seed crops were had been entered into the country’s certification system in 2020/21; During the first Parliamentary session for the year the Association is expecting to see the Plant Variety Rights Amendment Bill to be debated in the House; The 2021 Annual Conference of the NZ Grain & Seed Trade Association is planned to be held at the InterContinental Hotel in Wellington, 20-21 October,  2021. Read news in detail from NZGSTA newsletter here.

ToBRFV detected in ‘pest free’ declared seeds: December 2020:
Biosecurity New Zealand was alerted by industry of the presence of Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) in seeds imported from Israel. The seeds were reportedly accompanied with a phytosanitary certificate with a declaration that they were free of ToBRFV based on testing offshore; however tests in New Zealand found otherwise. Biosecurity New Zealand reportedly destroyed all tomato plants that were grown in close proximity to the affected plants. Read more here on Hort Daily and Horticulture New Zealand

PGG Wrightson Seeds’ seed treatment line in Uruguay: December 2020:
New Zealand’s largest seed company will distribute the group's line of Pro Farm UBP Technology products in Uruguay. According to a report, “The UBP Seed Treatment is based on a proprietary process turning plant-based lignin into a supramolecular, nutrient complex that supports plant growth and improves plant health, resulting in improved yields and crop quality. The seed treatment has proven applications on soybeans, wheat, oats, sorghum, and forage crops, all of which are widely grown in Uruguay.” The move stems from a recently signed agreement that provides the New Zealand company with “exclusive crop dependent selling rights to MBI’s Pro Farm UBP seed treatment line for the next five years (2020-2025) in Uruguay.” Read more details here

2020 News

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NOVEMBER 2020: A narrow, simple majority of New Zealander voters on November 6 voted not to legalise cannabis in a national referendum. According to media reports, including this one from The Guardian,The yes vote for legalising cannabis finished with 48.4% of the vote, trailing the no vote on 50.7%” The total number of votes in the referendum was reported to be 2.9 million. According to the above report “voters were asked to decide whether they wanted to pass a bill that would legalise cannabis and regulate how it is used and sold …” including for the producing and selling of fresh and dried cannabis, “including plants and seeds – for people over 20 years old.” For more information about the New Zealand cannabis industry, see this report.

Seed banking as extinction insurance in face of myrtle rust incursion: AUGUST 2020:
Scientists in New Zealand are working passionately to conserve trees and shrubs potentially facing extinction in the coming decades should the spread of an exotic fungus continue.. According to this article, the scientists had received warnings from colleagues in Australia to “seed bank early,” Hence the scientists have prioritized getting the threatened species into seed banks. Myrtle rust was detected in Australia in 2010 and in New Zealand in 2017. It is unclear which species will survive the myrtle rust incursion, or for how long. More details here.

Judge dismisses substandard fodder seed quality, failed crop case: AUG 2020:
A judge has dismissed the case of a dairy farming company who took its seed supplier to court over a failed crop, “saying there was no evidence the seed company acted in any way intended to mislead or deceive.” The dairy farming company, which operates a dairy farm near Temuka, South Canterbury, had reportedly opened an account with the supplier of agricultural products in January 2018, and purchased 152 bags of fodder beet seed in November, 2019. However, when yields failed to deliver to expectations, the company filed the case. Full details here

What happen to an ecosystem that loses beneficial ‘seed predators’?: AUGUST 2020:
A new study led by a post-doctoral researcher at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research is highlighting the significance of beneficial “seed predators” in an ecosystem.  In the words of the lead research, "It’s easy to understand why we should be worried when pollinators or seed dispersers have gone extinct, but ecologists tend to be less concerned about losing so-called ‘negative’ species interactions such as seed predation. These are important functions in island ecosystems too, yet we know very little about them". More details here