Jamie Gray

Jamie Gray is a business reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ wire agency

Golden times return for kiwifruit trade

New disease-resistant variety helps industry bounce back from devastating Psa scourge.

Neil Trebilco, president of NZ Kiwifruit Growers, says realising the Gold3 variety was Psa-resistant was a turning point for the industry.
Neil Trebilco, president of NZ Kiwifruit Growers, says realising the Gold3 variety was Psa-resistant was a turning point for the industry.

New disease-resistant variety helps industry bounce back from devastating Psa scourgeNeil Trebilco, president of NZ Kiwifruit Growers, says realising the Gold3 variety was Psa-resistant was a turning point for the industry. Jamie Gray

Just as the last rites were about to be administered to the New Zealand kiwifruit industry, a new disease-resistant variety has restored grower confidence to where it was just before the devastating Psa virus swept through Bay of Plenty orchards late in 2010.

Orchard prices have rebounded, investment has started again and fruit prices are better than for more than 10 years, giving growers reason to be more optimistic, industry representatives say.

Psa has already had a big impact on kiwifruit "gold" volumes, which fell by 55 per cent in 2013/14 compared with the previous season and to the lowest ever, but higher prices overall have helped to boost returns. Zespri estimates that this season will yield 17 million trays of Gold, up from 11 million trays in the previous season -- thanks mostly to the fact that the new variety, called Gold3, is Psa-tolerant compared with its highly susceptible predecessor, Hort16A.

One Te Puke grower, Braden Hungerford, said that when Psa struck it was "as if the sky had fallen in. You couldn't give these places away".

But there had been a dramatic recovery and he was enjoying his best season in almost a decade as a grower.

Zespri chairman Peter McBride said total fruit returns to New Zealand growers fell to $800.8 million from $959.1 million in 2012/13, due mostly to Psa. He said the 2013 season was painful for those who are still re-establishing their orchards after Psa, which hit the gold variety -- Hort16A -- particularly hard.

The industry's Psa recovery was now well under way with most Hort16A growers now grafted over to Gold3 and a significant number also choosing to graft from green to Gold3, he said.

Neil Trebilco, president of the industry group, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, said the sector reached a turning point last November when it was becoming clear Gold3 was Psa-tolerant -- although not entirely resistant.

Since then, he said, confidence in the industry had "flooded back" quicker than it disappeared when Psa first struck.

"We were very fortunate that the new Gold3 variety was released just before Psa happened. It meant that growers could graft across to it in a short space of time. It is a huge blessing that that variety was there, and it looks like it's going to work," he told APNZ.

Regrafting to a new variety can mean one or two seasons of lost production while the process takes place. APNZ

- APNZ

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