A compelling read…

If you want to know how innovative, world-leading applied plant-protection research has been in New Zealand and why this discipline needs to be supported then read this book. It’s an acknowledgment and record of the work of dedicated researchers and scientists to find, develop and transfer to growers a better way.

The title of a new book Farewell Silent Spring right away lays out a challenge. For it would be fair to state that Silent Spring by Rachel Carson laid bare many of the issues relating to the use of pesticides when it was published in 1962.
Today, we have just as big a challenge to increase food production in a sustainable manner and using pest management tools that meet consumer wants. This new book by Dr Howard Wearing takes up the challenge and delivers a clear unequivocal response.
Farewell to Silent Spring is simultaneously entertaining and educating in telling how the New Zealand apple industry moved from classical pest control reliant on chemical inputs to a sustainable pest management system over a period of 60 years. It is a compelling read.
As all with all good entertaining books, there are villains (Cydia pomonella, the Ctenopseustis and Planotortrix gang and many more), and there are heroes, some small such as Typhlodromus pyri, Mastrus ridens, Acerophagous maculipennis and others large – the over 200 people named. As an educating read, it is an insight into the complex relationship between food production and nature and shows the value of careful observational ecological science.
There are many ways to approach this book. Firstly though let me state what it is not. It is not a journal paper of the development of integrated fruit production (IFP) nor is it a meta-analysis of all the research done for IFP. So what is it? Let’s answer that by saying that you can read it:

–         as a case study for integrated pest management (IPM), finding out about the multitude of factors that are required for IPM implementation with the chance that many of these may be of value in your work
–         for the history of apple production systems in New Zealand
–         for the insights into science funding, how it worked in the past and today, the importance of long-term studies over decades with each year’s work building the understanding and the benefit of collaborative science
–         to understand the pest and beneficial insects in the apple orchards of New Zealand, and/or
–         to follow the careers of scientists and researchers who stepped outside the convention of pest control of the day and set out a change programme with a well-defined objective and reached it.

For whatever reason you have, just make sure you read it.

As I finished the book, two minor criticisms come to mind and they may well be due to my personal views. The first is that while there is acknowledgment of the products from the Crop Protection industry and the industry assistance in contributing to the funding of the research it needed more. A chapter on the outstanding work of the Crop Protection companies did in the 1990s to advance the apple IFP programme and the researchers there that were as dedicated and motivated to see IFP be successful would have completed the story for all involved. Secondly, at times, the emotive language overstates the potential risks of the crop protection products. Residues and maximum residue limits (MRLs) are set based on science and at levels safe to consumers. This is not to say that consumers wants should not be taken into account, just that these wants are often not driven by evidence-based findings. The author’s arguments could be made without falling into the trap of emotive language used by many.
The thing is this book is excellent for many reasons. If you are not yet convinced to get this book let me make one more point. The Millennial generation have recently raised the question what did the Boomers do to improve the world. Pick up this book and you will have the story of how the Boomer generation actually did take on huge environmental challenges. The people here studied and observed nature in apple orchards and stopped the use of toxic chemicals for pest control by using nature to manage nature. They did this through careful research and a deep understanding of the issues involved, and they created a sustainable food production system using holistic principles. This is the story of making the world a better place and, after all, isn’t that the best kind of story?
Copies are available for purchase from the publisher, the New Zealand Plant Protection Society, at: https://nzpps.org/books/pest-management/
George Follas