The kiwifruit sector has signalled its disappointment at the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) new recommendations on the use of the hydrogen cyanamide chemical.
Hydrogen cyanamide, often referred to by one if its trade names HiCane, is used by most conventional kiwifruit growers to promote bud growth.
Its action mimics winter chilling for bud production and a gradual rise in winter temperatures has meant its use has become particularly widespread in recent years in Western Bay of Plenty.
The EPA was originally proposing a five-year phase out period on the chemical, initiated by information from Europe on its human health and environmental risk assessments.
But in its latest update report on the chemical, the EPA has determined there is a level of “moderate technical uncertainty” around the chemical’s original risk assessment and extended the original five-year timeline to 10.
The authority has also recommended changing the chemical’s classification, so it is not classed as a suspected carcinogen, and extending buffer zones around its use zones.
Colin Bond, chief executive of NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI), said while welcoming the extension on a chemical for which there was no alternative, NZKGI did not want to see it ultimately banned.
“If it is used in accordance with the instructions, it is not a danger to applicators or the environment.
“The term ‘moderate technical uncertainty’ suggests there are still holes in the science. There simply is not enough science globally on its use to ban it.”
He said latest information from the EPA is there could remain some risks on earthworms and birds that would have to be examined.
“We had hoped we had done enough science to show there was no other risks with its use. The (EPA) report may have said something different. We intend to keep doing the work on the science.”
There was no visible alternative on the horizon to replace hydrogen cyanamide at this time and Bond said the level of use on non-organic orchards was very high, particularly over the past three warmer winters.
There was a sense the sector was ‘guilty until proven innocent’ in its use of the chemical, he said.
Breeding may provide an alternative means to increase bud burst, but Bond said this takes time and replacement vines needed to tick multiple boxes to meet supply chain demands, alongside budding potential.
The EPA will be reviewing its decision in mid-March 2023.
“We are hoping for a positive outcome, if not we may have to consider a judicial review.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated a decision had been made on HiCane’s future use. This was incorrect, the EPA has only released an update to its recommendations, which will be considered along with submissions from industry and the public in March.