Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Kiwifruit growers hit Psa wall

Te Puke growers like Marty Robinson who've lost their gold kiwifruit crops to Psa now face huge capital outlay to replant if they want to stay in the industry. Photo / Alan Gibson
Te Puke growers like Marty Robinson who've lost their gold kiwifruit crops to Psa now face huge capital outlay to replant if they want to stay in the industry. Photo / Alan Gibson

It's crunch time for gold kiwifruit growers blighted by the Psa-V crisis in Te Puke, where the economic devastation has been likened to a tsunami hit.

A recent report suggested the worst of the vine-killing scourge, which has affected more than 1200 orchards nationwide, would come in the next 12 months and cost 470 jobs annually over the next three years.

But many growers whose infected gold kiwifruit crops had been ripped out were now seeing their final payments from last season - and had until the end of the month to decide whether to commit tens of thousands on a new variety, G3, hoped to be more resistant to Psa-V.

Those who had cleared their orchards faced paying $60,000 per hectare to regraft with G3, with no guarantee it would be invulnerable.

"There are a lot of stressed-out people having to take a punt on something they don't really know will come off," said Kiwifruit Employment Co-ordinator Marty Robinson, who was appointed to the Ministry of Social Development-funded role after losing his own gold crop to Psa-V.

"One of the orchards I deal with is looking at planting five and half hectares - that's $400,000 so they can get back into production again."

The impact across Te Puke - deprived of most of the $100 million lost in export earnings this year - was widespread. "The kiwifruit industry makes up about 60 per cent of the [Te Puke economy]. It hasn't been a drastic dead-town type thing ... but Psa has had an effect across all layers."

"What we're seeing is a lot of families tightening up on what they're spending. Instead of going out and buying coffee or brand-name foods, they're trying to grow a lot of stuff at home and not going out."

Those directly affected included contracting companies who were finding orchard development work was drying up.

Mr Robinson said a best-case scenario was growers back on their feet in two to three years after replanting.

A more worrying possibility was G3 failing against Psa-V and orchards going bust.

"At the moment, we're not seeing a mass exodus of owners out of orchards. Most are just having to sit tight - they can't sell their orchards as no one wants to buy at the moment.

Banks were sticking by the industry and so far, there had been no problems finding new work in the industry for those who lost their jobs. His clients ranged from casual packhouse workers to senior orchardists.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president Neil Trebilco said many people failed to realise how the crisis had affected the region.

But he said damage to gold exports had been lighter than expected - the forecast of 15 million trays for this season was now 22 million.

Western Bay of Plenty mayor Ross Paterson said his council had offered property revaluations for orchardists to give rates relief.

- NZ Herald

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