We'll get through Psa, says new chief

By John Cousins

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Zespri's newly elected chairman, Peter McBride, says the kiwifruit industry will get through the devastation caused by the vine-killing disease Psa-V.

The owner of two orchards in Te Puke and Te Teko is also the chairman of Kiwifruit Vine Health - the body established to manage the response to Psa.

"While the industry has had a very tough time from Psa - and its impacts will continue to be felt for a number of years yet - I believe we will overcome the disease," he said.

Mr McBride, 48, was brought up on a dairy farm in Waikato and shifted to Te Puke at the age of 14, when his parents bought a kiwifruit orchard.

"We started young. As kids, he gave us land to work and we started our own kiwifruit nursery business."

Mr McBride has backed his huge practical experience in the industry with a bachelor of horticulture from Massey University and a post-graduate diploma in commerce (agri-business) from Lincoln University.

He won a seat on Zespri's board in 2002. Six years later, he was elected deputy chairman and on Monday at a special board meeting he won the top job.

Mr McBride restores the tradition for Zespri chairman to be elected from grower/directors, a tradition bucked by the outgoing chairman, independent director John Loughlin, who announced last week he was standing down.

"I think the way we grow kiwifruit has changed forever," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Mr McBride, whose industry pedigree includes involvement in the governance of kiwifruit plant breeding programmes, said he was confident the green variety would be fine if the right growing techniques were used.

He said Gold3, the gold cultivar licensed by Zespri to replace Hort16A, would be a challenge as growers would have to look after it really well.

Gold3 was considered the cornerstone of the industry's Psa recovery pathway.

Mr McBride said the industry had been hit by the perfect storm, particularly in Te Puke. First there was the We'll get through Psa, claims Zespri's new chairman

susceptibility of gold to Psa and the density of the plantings in the Bay of Plenty. Another big factor had been the influence of the La Nina weather pattern, bringing wet and cold conditions to the Bay.

Growers were being hugely challenged by Psa and there would be different outcomes between growers. He expected the industry would bottom out within the next two years after which the new Gold3 cultivar would start to affect orchard returns.

Mr McBride said it would be a significant challenge to ensure growers got sustainable returns. The other challenge was for Zespri to keep up its market strength against the fall in the gold harvest.

A lot of judgment would be required for the industry to get through the dip and still retain the capability to grow out the other side. "That's the difficult area.

"As Zespri chairman, I will be committed to doing all I can to navigate the industry through these tough times and return it to its long-term growth path."

Mr McBride's career has also involved agri-business development and the management of apple and dairy enterprises.

Mr Loughlin said: "I know that Peter will serve the industry well."

Mr McBride takes over as board chairman early next year.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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