Thursday, April 25, 2024

Spotlight back on Hi-Cane use

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EPA committee schedules week of hearings into kiwifruit bud break spray.
NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated CEO Colin Bond says the grower body has several key areas to address in the coming year on behalf of its levy-paying members.
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The use of the controversial bud break spray Hi Cane on kiwifruit will come under the spotlight with a week-long hearing scheduled to kick off in Tauranga on February 26.  

The hearing will determine the future of the spray, which has been given a 10-year phase-out period by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Hi-Cane, or hydrogen cyanamide, is a plant growth regulator widely used by the sector to promote the growth of shoots and bud break in a controlled manner. 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 the western Bay of Plenty. 

Its use has a controversial past, and in 2019 the EPA called for more information on its impact upon the environment and humans. There was no visible alternative on the horizon to replace hydrogen cyanamide at the time.

In late 2022 evidence was submitted by New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI) on its low environmental impact, but the EPA  determined there remained a level of “moderate technical uncertainty” around the chemical’s original risk assessment. It extended an original five-year phase-out period to 10 years.

That decision sent NZKGI back to dig further into the science of the spray, which will form the basis of its presentation to the committee over the hearing week.

“With this hearing, it will now be up to the decision-making committee to decide if they support the EPA’s recommendation,” NZKGI CEO Colin Bond said.

NZKGI’s submission maintains that EPA modelling overestimates the risks of the spray, while also underestimating its benefits, and that the EPA’s economic benefit estimate of Hi-Cane as “medium-high” should be reclassified as “high”. 

NZKGI also maintains that the EPA has failed to take account of the strict systems, controls and practices instilled around the spray’s use in NZ.

Zespri has also submitted to the EPA hearing.

In its submission the kiwifruit marketer maintains removing use of the spray will have significant economic impacts, amounting to over $2 billion over 10 years.  

It estimates that it could make 15% of commercial orchards unprofitable immediately and up to 30%  could be placed into financial distress by removing Hi-Cane use.

It also challenges the EPA’s use of data from trials that did not involve Hi-Cane or kiwifruit, and says it has overestimated the human health risk, modelled on risks that did not account for controls already in place to minimise that risk.

“Neither the EPA’s assessment of risk nor the controls proposed are evidence based,” it states in its submission.

Bond said growers also have the opportunity to present in person to the committee and there are “quite a significant number” who intend to do so. 

He said he understands there are four individuals submitting in person against the spray’s use.

The EPA is obliged to abide by whatever decision comes out of the committee hearing. Bond acknowledged such committees tend to support EPA recommendations.

“So, we are cognisant of the challenge there, but all our science supports what growers tell us, so we feel we have a strong case.”

He expected the industry will have a ruling from the committee by April.

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