Response sought to $100m Psa losses

By Jenee Tibshraeny, Carmen Hall

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Te Puke business leaders are looking for new opportunities to counter more than $100 million lost to Psa over the past year.

Kiwifruit Growers' Association president Neil Trebilco said $100 million had been lost as a direct result of the eight to 10 million trays of Gold kiwifruit that weren't harvested out of the wider Te Puke region last year.

In addition to the redundancies across the sector, and extra money spent on taking measures to prevent the spread of Psa, orchardists were suffering from a huge loss of equity.

The Gold orchards which were once worth $400,000 per hectare, were now worth as little as $70,000, said Mr Trebilco.

"It is going to affect businesses throughout the Bay via spending and it will affect employment and some people will probably want to leave the Bay because of a lack of jobs; we are facing all those negative effects, unfortunately."

He believed the effects of this loss were to be felt five-fold through the wider economy.

Every extra dollar you got multiplied by five throughout the economy.

The same worked in reverse for every dollar you lost, he said.

Te Puke and the wider Western Bay of Plenty would be hardest hit, because the kiwifruit industry accounted for about 25 per cent of the region's gross domestic product.

The loss was expected to double to $200 million next year.

Over the selling season, which extends from April through to June, a number of growers who had lost all their 16 A Gold kiwifruit would have little income and next year many faced the prospect of having no income as they replanted their orchards, said Mr Trebilco.

It took two years to re-establish vines that had been cut and re-grafted. It would be known by November how Gold3 kiwifruit - a more tolerant variety - had fared in the face of the disease.

Te Puke Economic Development Group managing director Mark Boyle said uncertainty around the kiwifruit industry had taken its toll but there had been a lift in trade services and the agri sector with replanting of orchards.

The loss in revenue would affect everyone in the end, from "the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker", so the economic development group was now focussing on diversification.

"We are looking at ideas for diversity and growth including a big bio fuel project, reinvigoration of the town to make the most of the new Tauranga Eastern link and tourism."

Western Bay of Plenty deputy mayor Paul Thomas said businesses in Te Puke were struggling not only with Psa but the downturn of the global economy.

"My feeling over the last three to four months is, I wouldn't use the word confidence, but there is a very, very small light at the end of a long tunnel."

The Psa outbreak is forecast to eventually cost $885 million and drain $442.5 million out of the economy over the next four years.

"We haven't seen the worst yet," said Mr Trebilco.

"There's no question that there will be a recovery. We just don't know when."

Otago University this week published findings which mapped the genome of Psa-V back to Chinese origins. The research, published in science journal PLOS ONE, found that the Psa strains responsible for outbreaks in Italy in 2008 and Chile in 2010 also came from China.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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