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Friday, September 22, 2017

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Comvita concerned by myrtle rust

Posted at 9:01am Saturday 06 May, 2017

While it’s too sooon to speculate about the potential impat of myrtle rust on the honey industry, Comvita CEO Scott Coulter confirms the Paengaroa-based manuka specialist is gathering information about the situatiuon.

Myrtle rust is an airborne fungus that could affect iconic New Zealand plants including pohutukawa, manuka, rata, kanuka, swamp maire, ramarama, and commercially-grown species like eucalyptus, feijoa and guava.

Severe infestations can kill affected plants and have long-term impacts on the regeneration of young plants and seedlings.

The disease was been found at a Kerikeri orchard on Tuesday. It is not known how this disease will affect New Zealand species. Overseas its impacts have varied widely from country to country and plant species to species.

“We understand that when myrtle rust arrived in Australia in 2010 there were concerns about the impact it might have on honey production. However, to date there seems to have been no effect,” says Scott.

“Our joint venture partner Australian honey company Capilano has not been impacted by myrtle rust.”

There is no evidence of myrtle rust on the on the leptospermum trees that the bees harvest nectar from and the trees are in good health, adds Capilano CEO Dr Ben McKee.

“I haven’t seen any affected trees since myrtle rust was found in Australia.”

Comvita is well placed with the Manuka plant breeding programme to assess tolerance to the disease across the broad genetic pool which they have within their programme.

The disease is already widespread in Australia and Tasmania and as the spores are microscopic they can be easily spread over large distances by wind. It had been expected to eventually arrive in New Zealand, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said.

With no known method for controlling the disease in the wild, early monitoring is a key part of the Government’s planned response. Even eradication would likely be short-lived, with the ongoing risk of reinfection from Australia.

The Kerikeri discovery follows news last month that Department of Conservation staff had spotted myrtle rust on pōhutukawa trees on Raoul Island.

At the time, director of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge Dr Andrea Byrom said the Kermadecs discovery marked "a significant and very sad milestone in a long history of impacts of invasive pathogens, pests and weeds on New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna".

Melanie Mark-Shadbolt from Te Turi Whakamātaki - the Māori Biosecurity Network says while the severity myrtle rust in New Zealand was unknown, it was likely to infect native plants in the myrtle family.

Based on what has happened in other countries, the impact on plant health could be devastating.

The Ministry for Primary Industries warns anyone who discovers myrtle rust to PLEASE NOT TOUCH IT, but take a photo, note its location and notify the MPI immediately by calling 0800 809 966.


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