Kiwifruit research interest home-grown for Simone

08 May 2023 | News

Simone Blackwood’s Master of Horticultural Science degree might have taken her to France, but her research is rooted at home.

She will receive her degree, along with hundreds of other graduands, at the Lincoln University Graduation on 12 May in the Christchurch Town Hall.

Simone grew up on a kiwifruit orchard in Otakiri, Bay of Plenty surrounded by family involved in the primary industries (dairy farming and horticulture).

"This stoked my passion for plant science, mainly in understanding plant physiology, their response to external stress and pests and diseases."

Her research, entitled 'Investigating sooty mould populations on kiwifruit at the pre-and post-harvest level', involved tackling a problem she was aware of from her background.

She said sooty mould described the complex of fungi that grew upon the honeydew excretions of sap-sucking insects such as cicada and resulted in a black mould on the surface of kiwifruit.

"In turn, these kiwifruit cannot be sold and result in significant losses to growers and the industry."

Simone presented a chapter of her thesis at the International Horticultural Congress last year in Angers, France.

"This was an exciting opportunity to share my findings, as well as connect with and learn from like-minded scientists."

After gaining a bachelor’s degree in ecology at Massey University, Simone completed a joint internship with Zespri and Start Afresh in Mount Maunganui, investigating non-pathogenic fungal growth on kiwifruit surfaces," which was and still is a major source of fruit loss for the industry".

I decided to take a Master of Horticultural Science at Lincoln University as I wanted to strengthen and elevate my skills in scientific research, which would then benefit my career.

"My mentors at Start Afresh encouraged me to do this and I saw it as a great opportunity to both study and work in the field I was interested in."

She said her study was the first to investigate the fungi on kiwifruit, and would aid in understanding how to prevent its development in future seasons.

"I was able to balance working and studying at the same time and received a lot of support from Start Afresh and my supervisors at Lincoln.

"Start Afresh provided me with a research orchard and equipment and Plant and Food Research provided me with laboratory support, and I was awarded a Callaghan Innovation Student Grant.

"I also had scholarships at Lincoln University which assisted my fees, travel expenses down to Lincoln and living costs in Mount Maunganui."

Simone is now working fulltime at Start Afresh as a Research Scientist, leading projects tackling some of the kiwifruit industry's significant challenges.

"I gain the most from getting out onto the orchard and understanding these challenges from a grower’s point of view. My goal is to bridge the gap between pre-and post-harvest science and enhance productivity and fruit quality in the horticultural industry.

"I am also in the process of converting chapters of my thesis into journal papers to be published.”