Psa: More bad news

By Joseph Aldridge

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The kiwifruit vine disease Psa is here to stay and many growers may be forced to leave the industry, acting Prime Minister Bill English has been told.

Mr English was briefed on the effect of Psa by prominent members of the kiwifruit industry during a tour of Kiwifruit Vine Health board member Peter Ombler's orchard yesterday.

There was hope for the industry but the next few years could prove too tough for some, Mr Ombler said.

"No matter what way you look at it it's been a very difficult time for all growers but I think inevitably for some growers it will be too demanding, and that may be a case of location, experience, age, could be a case of their debt position, or a range of the above," Mr Ombler said.

A percentage of growers would choose to sell up and get out of the industry, and those orchards would be bought by younger or wealthier orchardists. Those left in the industry would have to adapt through smart practices and active management, Mr Ombler said.

"The days of remote control orcharding are gone."

Mr Ombler told Mr English the next few years would be tough, particularly for kiwifruit centres such as Te Puke.

"It's a very serious situation for Te Puke, and regrettably the short-to-medium term will be negative, there's no question about that.

"It will ripple right through the housing market and everything else in Te Puke but it still is a good industry that's built up a good market opportunity and over time will repair itself and Te Puke will repair itself along with that, but unfortunately for the next little period it's going to be tough."

Of the kiwifruit growers who had switched from the susceptible variety Hort16 to the more tolerant variety Gold3, half were feeling confident about their future, Mr Ombler said.

Mr Ombler said green kiwifruit, if grown in a good area, would continue to be "relatively sustainable".

Growing gold kiwifruit would be more challenging but if they were well managed there was "some cause for optimism".

"I think the industry will certainly make its way through this and just learn to live with it."

Mr English said his briefing was a "reality check".

"For those of us that haven't been really close to it, I would say the Psa crisis has faded a bit from the public mind but the hard bit is still ahead of them. The orchardists are adapting but there is going to be a few tight years as they rebuild. It's going to be quite demanding for people to be able to manage co-existing with Psa, it's going to require some real skills and ongoing research and improvement of the cultivars." Mr English said it was the Government's responsibility to grow the economy so that there were opportunities available for those kiwifruit growers who will leave the industry.

Zespri grower and government relations general manager Simon Limmer said next year's crop of gold kiwifruit was expected to be about half the 30 million trays of two years ago.

"We're going through the process now, we don't exactly know what the impact is going to be but we do know 1700 hectares of Hort16 has been removed so that's gone and when we do the exercise on paper it looks like maybe 15 million trays is possible."

Zespri expects about 70 million trays of green kiwifruit from next year's crop, about the same as this year, he said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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