The New Zealand Poplar & Willow Research Trust was formed to ensure financial funding for research in breeding and applied science for poplars and willows for the public good of New Zealand (See History).
More than 1.6m ha of pastoral hill country needs space planted willows or poplars for erosion control. Most rivers require willows for bank stabilisation to manage flooding and waterways need shade. Significant shelter is provided by willows in horticultural areas, and shade and shelter are stock welfare issues. All these environments benefit from the special attributes of poplars and willows.
Breeding and improvement programmes are employed internationally to maintain genetic variation to create options for the future. Old uses demand new and more exact standards requiring research support. New uses arise requiring new genetic requirements, knowledge and technology transfer.
Disease organisms change in their virulence, new disease and insect pest organisms can be expected to arrive in New Zealand. The sudden arrival in 1973 of the poplar rust had been anticipated by a breeding programme to identify resistant clones. The resistant clones were bulked up and released within 4 years. A similar sudden arrival of the Willow sawfly in 1997 had not been prepared for due to lack of research funds. This required an international seed collection project and breeding and selection prior to release. This selection continues today.
Changing climatic conditions demand greater resilience from our domesticated species (of which poplars and willows are examples) and this greater resilience is supplied from long-term breeding programmes.
An active breeding programme requires a large germ-plasm bank and adds to it through hybridisation or acquisitions. This grows the resource and the knowledge to respond to environmental, economic and societal changes. Without a breeding programme there is no available expertise, no increase in knowledge or resource and no informed response to change.
The poplar and willow breeding programme is committed to initiatives that maintain the productive potential of our hill country, and the protection of our flood plains and our vulnerable urban areas.