Boosting the NZ seed sector yields and competitiveness

AgResearch work is ensuring the future prosperity of the New Zealand grass seed industry by helping boost crop yields and cost-competitiveness.

New Zealand’s export revenue is largely underpinned by forage production from major grass and legume species such as ryegrass, clover, cocksfoot and fescue.

Maintenance and improvement of the pastures on which producers depend is reliant on a vibrant domestic seed production industry. This is one of the most effective ways to deliver important genetic and bio-protection traits that will help the productivity and resilience of the New Zealand pastoral sector.

AgResearch studies, led by Dr Phil Rolston, have advanced knowledge of forage seed crop production with respect to plant growth regulators, optimal nitrogen fertiliser use, and strategically timed seed crop defoliation.

Particular advances in knowledge with respect to plant growth regulators, optimal nitrogen fertiliser use, and strategically-timed seed crop defoliation (combined as a technology transfer package) have resulted in notable reductions in nitrogen application rates, reduced the impact of crop lodging effects on seed yield, and has led to significant seed yield gains.

The potential value of this new knowledge is estimated to be worth nearly $20 million at a target 95% grower adoption rate.

There have also been spill-over benefits in sustaining industry cost-competitiveness and environmental compliance.

Roger Williams, Research Director at the Foundation for Arable Research says that New Zealand is uniquely placed to lead the world in temperate forage seed innovation and production because of its climate and strong biosecurity.

“The arable sector is under acute and increasing pressures. This is due to a variety of reasons including land use change; rising costs of inputs, especially water and fertilisers; loss of agri-chemicals for pest, weed and disease control; and for some key crops, declining pollinator activity.

“Continued research and extension activities to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the New Zealand seed industry are essential.”

The direct value of total grass seed production in 2011 was $93 million of which 60% was export earnings; but importantly downstream impacts via pasture improvement has been estimated to contribute to or underpin, some $3.2 billion to GDP annually.