While New Zealand saw record kiwifruit exports in 2016-17 and there is often much discussion within the industry about rebounding from vine disease Psa, a group of 212 growers is seeking redress for the losses caused by the incursion.
As the Kiwifruit Claim before the High Court continues with the aim of holding the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) responsible, some growers have emphasized they are much worse off than before the virulent strain of the disease hit the country in 2010.
In a release, claim chairman John Cameron raised concerns about perceptions the industry was “fully recovered” from the deadly bacteria.
“We consider it misleading to say that the entire industry is now doing well and is in better shape than it has ever been,” Cameron said.
“When Psa struck, growers’ lives and their livelihoods were destroyed and for many the impact is ongoing.
“There were growers who were completely wiped out, and facing no crops and plummeting land and orchard values, lost their businesses and were forced to sell at heavily discounted prices.”
He said growers that managed to get through the ordeal often suffered a complete loss of income, taking on huge debts to replant.
“Many of them are now only just beginning to get back to pre-Psa production levels after seven years,” he said.
“Prior to November 2010, the average value an orchard would sell for was around (NZ)$400,000 per hectare. After Psa struck, prices plummeted to around (NZ)$80,000 per hectare – at that point many growers were forced to sell. If it wasn’t for Psa, they might still be successfully growing kiwifruit and running their businesses.
“We understand that some people bought kiwifruit businesses and land at these rock bottom prices.”
Former kiwifruit grower Don Hyland explained he had no option but to sell after his orchard was hit twice by Psa.
“My orchard, which I put my heart and soul into, was worth around (NZ)$3 million prior to Psa. But I ended up selling it for only land and building value,” Hyland said.
“I had enjoyed great success in kiwifruit farming, which was the result of a lot of hard work, innovative thinking and technological development. Psa took all that away from me.
He said he followed instructions to cut everything out after the first infection, re-grafting with the new G3 variety.
However, he claims this cultivar also succumbed to the disease even though he had been told it would be resistant to Psa.
“It was absolutely heart-breaking for me to see all our efforts to keep the orchard going fail, again and again and it was at that point that I knew I had to sell,” Hyland said.
“Improved orchard management practices were happening before Psa. G3 was being trialled and appeared to be a good prospect – and if it had not been for Psa, myself and many others would have continued to develop, innovate and participate in the returns that others are now experiencing.
“I am angry and disappointed that something so destructive to our industry was allowed into the country and I believe it’s wrong to say that the industry is better off and that we’re all doing well now, because not everyone is.”
Te Puke orchard owner Bob Burt told the publication Sunlive.co.nz the disease was like a “ticking time bomb”, adding significant costs in pest management and leading to lower production levels on farms.
“Psa has not and never will be eradicated. Resistance to primary control chemicals is growing and I believe the likelihood of further Psa outbreaks is high,” Burt told the publication.
“I constantly live with the fear that Psa will come back and devastate the orchard again, it is a frightening disease,” he was quoted as saying.
“As growers, we do everything possible to ensure that our vines are in the best possible health so that they can resist Psa, but because of the characteristics of Psa-V, it could very easily genetically mutate and what we are currently using as pest management practices won’t be effective at all.”
This week’s hearings in the Kiwifruit Claim case are set to focus on DNA evidence, with several key Zespri and former Zespri figures set to take the stand, along with former Eastpack CEO Tony Hawken and MPI representatives.
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