Omamawa passionfruit growers Lin and Richard Pickard have lost 70 per cent of their vines to crown rot and crop volumes across the industry are expected to be down 40 per cent after a poor growing season.

Mr Pickard said it was devastating to see 700 out of 1100 vines die from the disease more commonly known as black leg - a fungal disease that starts in the plant during a cold, wet winter and causes the vine to keel over in spring.

"You spend all year getting ready to produce a crop and then winter comes and they all die. It's devastating and it's not just us this year, the industry has lost about 25 per cent of its producing vines."

The New Zealand Passionfruit Growers Association vice-president said he had diversified, putting in 1000 blueberry plants and 700 fig trees in the past year to spread the risk, and they were determined to fight the disease.


Mr Pickard said every year he thought of getting out of the industry as the orchard had continuously been affected.

"But I stay because I love growing and producing passionfruit. I probably am mad but what do you do?

"You can't just give up."

Black leg was a constant problem but the industry had taken steps to learn more about its management, which was a welcome move.

The association was working with a research and development company in Wellington, Plant and Food and pathologists from Lincoln University.

"The industry is small and deserves to be taken forward," Mr Pickard said.

"If we can do our little bit to move the industry on over the next four or five years then we will do that."

Association president Tony Wright likened black leg to Psa and said while it would never be eradicated, it could be brought under control.


Some growers who had been hit had pulled their orchards out and the current harvest was down 40 per cent due to black leg, poor pollination and a wet spring, he said.

However, it had been a good season financially due to supply and demand.

"The orchard gate return is about $15 a kilo, last year it was down to about $9 a kilo so the growers are pretty happy with that."

The organisation was established in the 1980s and has 45 active members - with the majority of growers based in Bay of Plenty.

Volumes fluctuate but the industry averages about 130 tonnes of fruit a year. Meanwhile, about 33 per cent of that was exported with most destined for Los Angeles with the market in the United States getting stronger, Mr Wright said.