New Zealand Plant Protection Medal 2016
This medal is awarded by the New Zealand Plant Protection Society to honour those who have made exceptional contributions to plant
protection in New Zealand in the widest sense. The medal is awarded for outstanding services to plant protection, whether through research,
education, implementation or leadership.
In 2016, the New Zealand Plant Protection Medal was awarded to Dr Rob Beresford who is one of New Zealand’s most experienced and versatile plant pathologists. Rob started his career in science with an MSc Hons, 1st class, in Auckland in 1978 and was appointed to DSIR Plant Diseases Division at Lincoln in 1979. He was awarded a National Research Advisory Council Postgraduate Research Fellowship to undertake PhD studies at Long Ashton Research Station in the UK from
1982 to 1985, returning to Lincoln in 1986. Those studies kicked off a long career in epidemiology and today Rob is New Zealand’s pre-eminent plant disease epidemiologist. For 30 years, Rob has been New Zealand’s strongest advocate for the use of weather-based disease prediction for developing practical
disease control strategies, particularly to reduce the economic, environmental and market residue impacts of fungicide use. By understanding and modelling relationships between pathogen biology and ecology and weather, Rob has translated complex correlations between biological and physical factors
into simple practical tools for growers to use for disease control. To date, these have included decision support tools for apple scab, downy mildew in onions, botrytis in grapes and more recently Psa in kiwifruit. He has also developed prediction models for climatic risk of invasive pathogens (potato wart disease and myrtle rust) and for the impacts of climate change on crop diseases.
Recognising the importance of climate and weather in affecting plant diseases, Rob has, for many years, championed a network of weather stations in the key horticultural districts throughout New Zealand to generate data for the decision-support tools. It has been a struggle to keep the network running against shortages of funding and the frequent need to re-assert the value of the network to New Zealand horticulture. Rob has built a team of equally committed colleagues who share this understanding and, through tenacity and persistence, have recently achieved an upgrade of the entire network to internet-based communication systems. It is through his close collaborations over many years with the software company HortPlus that his decision support tools have been delivered to the commercial arena.
Rob was a member of the New Zealand team that argued the case at the World Trade Organisation for the easing of restrictions on New Zealand apples entering Australia. Rob’s superior skills in interpreting climate data, in this case Australian data, in terms of pathogen survival, establishment and spread, and his clarity in presenting the results were instrumental in the success of that case in 2010.
In parallel with Rob’s epidemiological strategy to reduce fungicide use is his interest in the threat of pathogens developing resistance to fungicides. Rob leads research to identify resistance threats to fungicides and also provides liaison between grower associations and agrochemical companies to design and implement robust resistance-management strategies. His focus on resistance started in 2005 when he published updated management strategies for all nine of the then available fungicide groups for the New Zealand Plant Protection Society (NZPPS). In 2007, he re-established the New Zealand Committee on Pesticide Resistance (NZCPR) (which had been in abeyance for 10 years) and chaired the committee’s work on fungicides, insecticides and herbicides from 2007 to 2012. He stepped aside to become NZCPR Science Advisor in 2012 so he could focus on resistance research. Following devastating disease outbreaks of apple scab (Venturia ineaqualis) in the pipfruit industry in 2009, Rob initiated a research programme with Pipfruit New Zealand that showed the cause of the outbreaks to be resistance to two groups of fungicides in use at the time. He has recently coordinated resistance strategy updates for botrytis affecting the wine industry, for summer fruit diseases and is currently leading a programme to monitor resistance of grape powdery mildew to key groups of fungicides. Rob was awarded the 2014 Plant & Food Research Chairman’s Award for his work on fungicide resistance.
Rob is an effective communicator at all levels from heavy science to grower forums and is always willing to share his time, skills and knowledge. He has been involved with undergraduate lecturing for many years and has successfully supervised several PhDs.
NZPP Medal recipients for the previous five years:
2015: Gary Barker
2013: Andrew Hodson
2012: Margaret Dick
2011: Jim Walker