New Zealand

Climate change threatens sweet potato crops

Industry experts are afraid that climate change is threatening New Zealand’s kūmara (sweet potato) crops. Peruvian researchers tested 1973 kūmara strains, including six from New Zealand, and found just 132 were heat-tolerant. None of the New Zealand kūmara were judged likely to cope with higher temperatures.

"Heat and drought stresses are among the most important climatic events aggravated by climate change that affect sweet potato productivity," the researchers said. "The increase in intensity and frequency of heat waves represents a serious threat to crop production worldwide."

The researchers are working for the International Potato Centre in Peru, suggested the heat-tolerant sweet potatoes could be used in breeding programmes to help crops adapt to predicted temperature increases of up to 6o Celsius by 2070.

Stuff.co.nz reports on New Zealand having about 50 commercial kūmara growing operations, most of them in Northland and Northern Wairoa, producing red, gold and orange varieties. In 2019, a 24,000-tonne kūmara crop was harvested for the domestic market, with a sales value of $55 million.


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