Disease ends orchard and jobs

By Laurel Stowell -
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Seven jobs and most of the pears Whanganui people have enjoyed for a decade will be gone next season.

Mangamahu grower Nick Tripe will be ripping out 8000 trees at his Glenfield pear orchard next month, and burning them. The smoke should be visible from Whanganui, he said.

The trees will be pulled out because 80 per cent are infected with fire blight, a bacterial disease that kills branches and shrivels the fruit. Eventually the whole tree dies.

As many as 500 tonnes of pears have been harvested at Mr Tripe's Okirae Rd orchard in good years recently. This year only 150 tonnes were saleable.

The orchard had always had some fire blight, he said, but it was under control.

Then the trees were weakened by the June 20 flood last year, and staff were unable to get to some because of mud underfoot. The fruit set looked brilliant in September and October, but by November the extent of the disease was clear.

A consultant from Nelson has said the orchard is finished. Mr Tripe will not be spending the $100,000 that would possibly pull it back from the brink, because another flood can happen at any time.

He is making his staff redundant - and is left sad for both his orchard, and for his workers.

"That's the part I find devastating - they've been with me across the years. It's devastating for them as they had a secure livelihood here."

Mr Tripe has spent a decade training Whanganui people to eat pears, and reckons our consumption must be among the highest in the world. He's also built up markets in Auckland and Wellington, and sells many tonnes of fruit at Pak 'n Save in Whanganui.

He said the Whanganui region once had 13 pear growers and was second only to Nelson in volume produced. The end of the Glenfield orchard leaves just three smaller pear orchards.

Next season's pears will have to be imported to match the taste we now have for them, he said.

-End of a dream - see our rural supplement The Country in tomorrow's Chronicle

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