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Douglas, J.A. 1993. New crop development in New Zealand. p. 51-57. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

New Crop Development in New Zealand

James A. Douglas

    1. Wasabi
    2. Myoga Ginger
    3. Medicinal Herbs
    4. Culinary Herbs
    5. Essential Oils
    6. Edible Fungi
    7. Fruit, Nuts, and Ornamentals
  5. Table 1
  6. Table 2
  7. Table 3
  8. Fig. 1

New Zealand lies between the 33° to 53° south latitudes in the South Pacific about 1,600 km east of Australia. It consists of two main islands similar in size to Japan or the British Isles. The climate is temperate and dominated by a westerly wind flow within an oceanic environment that gives a weather pattern which is changeable over short periods. In the southern main island a mountain chain exceeding 3,000 m in height modifies the weather pattern. The country as a whole is subject to extremes of wind and rain with annual rainfall varying from below 400 mm to over 12,000 mm in the Southern alps. Summer droughts are common in many areas and all regions of the country experience frost except the northern part of the North Island.

New Zealand has been settled by Europeans for 170 years with the total population now 3.3 million. About 18 million hectares are occupied with pastoral farming being the major form of land use. In 1988, New Zealand had 65 million sheep, 8 million beef and dairy cattle, 1.3 million goats, and 0.6 million farmed deer. Primary products from these stock, forestry products, fruit and vegetables, and fish make up 64% of the New Zealand export trade of $NZ15 billion ($NZ = 0.59 US$, 1991). The important point about this trade is that, with the exception of fish, it is based on animals and plants which have been introduced into New Zealand over the past 150 years. The pastoral industry is based on the European pasture species perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.), the forestry industry on the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata D. Don) from coastal California, and the fruit industry on the Eurasian apple (Malus x domestica Borkh.) and the kiwifruit [Actinidia deliciosa (A. Chev.) C.F. Liang & A.R. Ferg.] from China.


The wide range of climatic variation in New Zealand from low to high rainfall, cool temperate to marginally subtropical gives a capacity to grow a very wide range of crops. The difficulty has been to narrow down the number of potential crops from those which are environmentally feasible to those which are profitable. To do this, the focus has been moved from examining what crops will grow in New Zealand to using market intelligence to identify crops with defined international or niche market opportunities and then working back to the feasibility of production in New Zealand. Published information about target markets has been used to identify growth areas within markets but often this information is too generalized to identify specific crops. Consequently, these desk studies have been followed up by commissioned within market investigations to gather the detailed information required to identify crops which have established markets but which are not currently grown in New Zealand. Available literature has been collected on each crop to characterize their environmental requirements and assess the likely adaptation to New Zealand conditions. Target crops are sourced, plant material imported, and grown in preliminary trials to assess their local environmental adaptation and their ability to produce the product required by the market place. Crop samples are sent to the target markets to assess the quality standard and market acceptability. Crops which exhibit potential proceed to more sophisticated trials with a greater selection of cultivars to determine their specific environmental, agronomic, and postharvest requirements to optimize yield and quality parameters.

The new crops program is carried out at a number of research stations which span the major island environments (Fig. 1). Climatic recordings from these research stations or close by, listed in Table 1, indicate the temperate nature of the New Zealand environment. In summer, temperatures above 30°C are uncommon and in winter, snow is normally only a one or two day phenomena in the southern regions. There are six programs: new export vegetable crops; European and Asian medicinal herbs; culinary herbs and essential oils; edible fungi; fruit; nuts; and ornamentals.


Research on new export vegetables has concentrated on investigating the requirements of the Japanese market. Already, New Zealand exports significant volumes of squash, asparagus, and onions to Japan. Traditional Japanese vegetables, which are not widely known outside Japan, have strong internal demand. The possibility of growing such vegetables in New Zealand and exporting them to Japan provide the basis of this program. New Zealand has many climatic features similar to Japan and is environmentally suitable to produce Japanese vegetables. The major constraint is the need to choose vegetables which have sufficient shelf life so that they can be freighted to Japan in good condition.

Subsequent to an examination of Japanese market information, two crops, wasabi [Wasabia japonica (Miq.) Matsumara] and myoga ginger (Zingiber mioga Roscoe), were identified as having strong market potential. Research began on wasabi in 1982 and myoga in 1983.


Wasabi or Japanese horseradish is a native perennial crucifer of Japan which is used as a traditional condiment of Japanese food. It requires specific conditions of light and water to thrive. In Japan, the highest quality fresh product is grown on tree shaded, terraced gravel beds covered by a thin layer of cool running water from mountain streams or on artificially shaded mounded gravel ridges formed in larger river beds (Hodge 1974; Follett 1986). Lower quality wasabi for processing is grown in soil.

Wasabi plants grow poorly in New Zealand in full sunlight and artificial shading is required to keep the light levels below 700 µmol m-2 s-1 otherwise the plant is liable to wilt. Japanese recommendations of using 50% shade cloth were inadequate under New Zealand conditions and a further 30% shade cloth was required during the summer. Further research on the shade requirement of wasabi is needed.

The initial New Zealand trials on wasabi were established in large concrete troughs filled with rock and gravel similar to the tatami ishi wasabi beds of Shizuoka, Japan. Spring water of 13° to 14°C was flowed over the beds at about 160 liters/min. Unrooted cuttings were planted at 25 cm centers and the crop grown for two years. Sequential harvests from 15 months indicated that there was a need to leave the crop at least 18 months before harvest to achieve a reasonable production of stems over 50 g (Table 2).

Wasabi has a number of major pests and diseases and is known to suffer from various mosaic viruses which can cause rapid crop decline if successive crops are grown from infected sideshoot cuttings. Regular spraying is required to control aphids and white cabbage butterfly caterpillars. Leaf diseases such as white rust (Albugo sp.) are also controlled by foliar sprays but the more difficult diseases to control include the stem and root fungal diseases, Phoma and Botrytis and bacterial softrot, Erwinia. Control of these diseases is largely unresolved in the natural running water systems.

Considerable progress has been made in New Zealand in the past 5 years on how to grow wasabi to produce a marketable crop, but it is only the beginning. A greater understanding of the physiology of the crop in relation to its environmental requirements, improved cultivars, and better disease control should all allow higher yields and more efficient production methods to be developed. Research in these areas is underway.

Myoga Ginger

Myoga ginger (Zingiber mioga Roscoe), a cold tolerant member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), is a native perennial of Japan grown as a traditional Japanese vegetable for its spring shoots or its summer/autumn flower buds. The production of flower buds is highly seasonal and consequently there is an opportunity for a southern hemisphere producer such as New Zealand to supply myoga to Japan when their supplies are low.

Preliminary research on myoga was conducted in New Zealand by Palmer (1984) and following an investigation of Japanese production systems (Follett 1986) further plants were introduced. The plant is established vegetatively from rhizome sections with faster and more even plant emergence from coolstored rhizomes (Follett 1991). The plant is frost sensitive and dies down in winter but the dormant rhizomes have proved to be quite winter hardy (Palmer 1984). Myoga is vigorous and largely disease and pest free when grown on free draining soils, although rhizome rotting from Fusarium and Pythium species has been noted on poorer drained soils. Under New Zealand conditions, myoga topgrowth sunburns and becomes chlorotic without shading and consequently trials have been established under 50% shade cloth. A comparison is presently being made between artificial shade and natural shade given by spaced Paulownia (Paulownia elongata S.Y. Hu) trees.

Myoga production beds established with 30 cm between rhizomes and 1 m between rows have yielded 6.75 t/ha of flower buds in the second year. This is comparable to Japanese production levels. The flower buds develop from underground stems on the edge of the plant mass and to achieve top quality produce, the buds should be picked before they emerge and turn green. To facilitate this, a 10 cm layer of sawdust was applied so that the buds could be located by fossicking and picked. Picking was carried out every 2 to 3 days over a 2 month period.

Myoga is a very new crop in New Zealand with little grown commercially. There remains considerable research to be undertaken in defining its agronomic management but research results to date and the successful test marketing of New Zealand grown myoga indicate that it is likely to be a successful new crop for New Zealand.

Medicinal Herbs There is a large and expanding international market for medicinal herbs and plants for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals (Principe 1989). New Zealand has no significant production of these products although in the late 1970s commercial extraction of solasodine from the native Solanum species (S. aviculare Forst., S. laciniatum Ait.) was begun but later abandoned (Mann 1978; Mann et al. 1985). Nevertheless, the New Zealand environment provides good conditions for the growth of a wide range of medicinal herbs and in many instances they are familiar as weeds. Examples include dandelion (Taraxacum officinale G. Weber), St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), horehound (Marrubium vulgare L.), burdock (Arctium lappa L.), Variegated thistle [Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertner], briar rose (Rosa rugosa Thunb.), and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna Jacq.).

The current research program is focussed on understanding the agronomic requirements of seven medicinal herbs: coneflower [Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench], valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.), Arnica montana L., dandelion, feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium Pers.), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.), and ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Mey., P. quinquefolius L.). Test marketing of samples from preliminary research on valerian, dandelion, rosehips, and chamomile [Chamomilla recutita (L.) Rauschert] has already shown that these crops can be produced to international market standards. Collections of a wide range of European and Asian medicinal herbs are being assembled for preliminary evaluation of both their growth potential and quality assessment before proceeding to more sophisticated agronomic programs. A Plant Extracts Research Unit provides the quality assessment of the medicinal herbs and also produces plant extracts for examination of their biological activity. This research program is in its infancy and although few results are available, the initial indication is that a wide range of medicinal herbs should be able to be grown successfully in New Zealand.

Culinary Herbs

A wide range of culinary herbs are grown by home gardeners and herb enthusiasts in New Zealand and the more common ones are supplied fresh to local markets with a small export industry based on fresh herbs. There is however no significant industry growing herbs to supply the international dried herb market. Preliminary research has already shown that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.), lemon verbena [Aloysia triphylla (L'Her.) Britton], sage (Salvia officinalis L.), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) have all produced good quality herbage which meets international market standards. Research has been planned on these crops as well as oregano (Origanum vulgare L.), peppermint (Mentha xpiperita L.), and spearmint (M. spicata L.), to examine the environmental and agronomic requirements to produce high quality produce. It is expected that as a greater understanding of each crop is developed more emphasis will be placed on growing these crops organically.

Essential Oils

New Zealand has the potential to grow a wide range of essential oil crops but no major industry has yet developed. Considerable research has been conducted describing the essential oil content of New Zealand native species and a small industry extracts manool from the native pink pine [Halocarpus biformis (Hook.) Quin] (Brooker et al. 1988). Research on peppermint begun in 1968, led to some commercial planting but this industry did not persist due to the difficulties with mint rust (Puccinea menthae pers. commun.) (Lammerink and Manning 1971, 1973).

The current research program seeks to systematically define the oil yield, composition analysis, and international quality assessments of a number of species (Table 3). The results have been very encouraging from this research and commercial extraction of essential oil and sclareol from clary sage is currently under investigation. Agronomic trials have been established to examine the influence of cultivars, environment, weed control, time of harvest, and distillation on oil yield and quality.

Edible Fungi

New Zealand has an industry based on the cultivation of the button mushroom [Agaricus bisporus (Lange) Sing.] and a growing interest in the cultivation of shiitake [Lentinula edodes (Berk.) Sing.]. In the past, a small industry has been based on the collection of the jelly fungus Auricularia polytricha (Mont.) Sacc. to supply the Chinese market (Brooker et al. 1988).

The current research program is directed at developing techniques to establish and produce the sought after mycorrhizal fungi, black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vitt.), white truffle (T. magnatum Pico.), matsutake [Tricholoma matsutake (S. Ito & Imai) Sing.], and cep (Boletus edulis Bull.). Research has successfully devised techniques to inoculate black truffle onto oaks and hazels and although the fungus is evident in the field no truffle production has yet occurred (Hall and Brown 1989).

Fruit, Nuts, and Ornamentals

Research on new fruits is directed at identifying appropriate cherimoya (Annona cherimola Mill.) cultivars for the northern regions of New Zealand. There are now over 60 named cherimoya cultivars in New Zealand and evaluation continues to seek a fruit which has the attributes of high yield, smooth skin, low seed number, good flavor, and a reasonable shelf life (Anderson and Richardson 1990). At the present time, there is no cherimoya industry in New Zealand.

There is a small and developing industry on macadamia (Macadamia integrifolia Maiden & Betche, M. tetraphylla L.A.S. Johnson) nuts in New Zealand but low yields limit the commercial success (Richardson and Dawson 1991). Research is continuing on evaluation of cultivars from mainly Australian and Hawaiian sources and investigating the effect of pollination and nutrition on crop yields to highlight possible ways to increase yields.

Preliminary research has begun to better define pollination of chestnuts (Castanea sativa Mill., C. crenata Siebold & Zucc.) and identification and control of fungal pathogens which spoil stored nuts. Small commercial plantings of chestnut have taken place based mainly on superior selected trees from local seedlings and there is a need for further cultivar evaluation.

Biogeographic principles are being used to pinpoint sources of appropriate plant material for new plant introductions into New Zealand where there are perceived market potentials not currently being addressed. Particular emphasis is being directed towards sourcing plants from the enormous germplasm resource of South America. Species collected are fed into the herb, essential oil, fruit, and ornamental programs. New ornamentals obtained in South America such as some Begonia, Ennealophus, Fuchsia, and Tibouchina species which are new to New Zealand are evaluated for growth habit, flowering behavior, and postharvest shelf life to estimate their potential as cut flowers or potted plants.


The emphasis in this research program is to identify and develop new export trade opportunities for New Zealand. The focus is on what the marketplace demands both in terms of type and quality of product. To reach this endpoint the new crops program is built around an approach of identifying the market opportunity, evaluating the adaptability and productivity of the new crop, and test marketing samples of the crop to be assured the product reaches market specifications. In this way, the New Zealand new crops program has a clear focus and clearly defined goals. The program is new and open-ended in relation to identifying new opportunities and although many of the crops under investigation have not been previously grown in New Zealand, we believe the approach will see many of them become established industries in the future.


*I thank M.H. Douglas, J.M. Follett, I.R. Hall, A. Richardson, and B.M. Smallfield for providing information from their individual programs.
Table 1. Climatic observations relevant to each research station shown on Fig. 1.

Research station Rainfall (mm) Mean air temp. (°C) Avg. daily range (°C) Mean Jan. air temp. (°C) Mean July air temp. (°C) No. degree days above 10°C No. air frost free days
Redbank 360 10.1 13.4 16.5 2.5 889 112
Invermay 691 10.2 10.7 14.7 5.0 791 195
Lincoln 666 11.4 10.5 16.5 5.8 1067 206
Hastings 764 13.9 10.5 19.1 8.4 1317 189
Ruakura 1201 13.3 11.2 17.8 8.3 1376 228
Kerikeri 1682 15.1 10.1 18.9 10.8 1912 603

Table 2. The effect of crop age on the stem yield of wasabi.

Stem yield (t/ha)
Harvest time (mo.) Mean stem wt (g) Total stem wt/plant (g) Stems/plant
>50 g
<20 g 20-50 g >50 g
15 14 192 0.44 8 11 3
18 20 266 1.38 7 8 10
22 22 296 1.41 5 8 7

Table 3. Essential oil crops under evaluation.

Scientific name Common name Favorable
estimates of
essential oils
assessment on
essential oils
Artemisia dracunculus L. French tarragon 40
Carum carvi L. Carraway seed 100
Coriandrum sativum L. Coriander seed 16 yes
Hyssopus officinalis L. Hyssop --- yes
Lavendula angustifolia Mill. Lavender 30
Lavendula xintermedia Emeric ex Loisel. Lavandin 50
Lavendula latifolia Medik. Spike lavender 35 yes
Mentha xpiperita L. Peppermint 50
Mentha spicata L. Spearmint ---
Origanum vulgare L. Oregano 110
Rosa damascena Mill. Rose ---
Salvia officinalis L. Sage 60 yes
Salvia sclarea L. Clary sage 50 yes
Thymus vulgaris L. Thyme 40 yes

Fig. 1. Location of research stations involved in the New Zealand new crop program.

Last update September 5, 1997 aw