The kiwifruit industry has defied all odds after beating the scourge of Psa which wiped out Zespri's golden Hort 16A crop nearly a decade ago.
They were dark days, with growers losing their vines, orchards and money.
But today kiwifruit is the biggest horticulture export out of New Zealand and the sector is booming.
In the first of a series, Carmen Hall takes an in-depth look at the effects of Psa and new challenges which could threaten its remarkable almost-ruin to riches success story.
This is Bust to boom: Kiwifruit's amazing comeback.
New Zealand's multibillion-dollar kiwifruit industry has become a victim of its own success as it cracks new records after clawing back from the brink of Psa annihilation nearly 10 years ago.
The bounce-back and rapid growth have resulted in a government declaration of a kiwifruit labour shortage in the Bay of Plenty for the second year running.
The industry is scrambling to fill thousands of seasonal positions and forecasts show it will need 7000 more workers by 2027.
Gold kiwifruit, the darling of the local and national economy this year, will outstrip green kiwifruit volumes for the first time and Zespri is confident total global kiwifruit sales for 2018 are likely to near $3 billion - nearly double of 2011.
The final figure will be announced at its annual meeting later this month as the company closes in on its 2025 global sales target of $4.5b.
All this comes as a bumper gold kiwifruit harvest comes to an end.
Eastpack chief executive Hamish Simson said the gold harvest had been one of the earliest in about 10 years and he expected this season the company would pack a couple of million more trays than last year.
''To give you an indication of how quickly the season has come on, by midnight on March 19 we had packed 1.4 million trays compared to 190,000 the previous year.''
Simson said he was ''very pleased'' and despite labour demands, Eastpack had been able to pick unconstrained and not ''slow anyone down, which is a market success for us at this time of the year''.
This is a far cry from the fear and panic that gripped growers in 2010 when Psa ripped through orchards at an alarming rate and destroyed Zespri's golden goose, Hort 16A.
More than 80 per cent of the country's kiwifruit orchards are in the Bay of Plenty, and it contributes $1.1 billion to the local economy. A Waikato University report estimates that could reach $2b by 2030.
Zespri chief grower and alliance officer Dave Courtney said when he joined the company in March 2011, five months after Psa hit, the ''industry was deeply concerned about its future''.
''Growers didn't know if they would emerge from Psa and if they did, what shape they would be in, particularly in the growing heartland of the Bay of Plenty and Te Puke. It was quite significant and if you reflect on those times, things were dark.''
But it galvanised the industry and even though it is not the Kiwi way to ''stand up and blow their own trumpets ... I think the industry has a right to be proud of where they have come from".
Courtney said the future looked bright.
G3 or SunGold has been credited with resurrecting gold kiwifruit after Psa wiped out Hort 16A and Zespri data reveals that since it was commercialised in 2010, 6400ha has been released with a further 700ha of SunGold and 50ha of SunGold Organic licence has been released this year - and every year until 2022, subject to annual review.
In 2019, the median price per hectare of SunGold licence was $290,000.
''We have been a predominantly green kiwifruit industry, and for the first time, there will be more gold than green, so it shows the evolution of the industry," he said.
"At the moment we are struggling to meet demand around the licences. We have about 6500ha of green in the ground, but gold is more productive and has higher returns, so you get a double whammy.''
Kiwifruit was also spreading outside the Bay of Plenty into other regions.
''The kiwifruit value story is starting to push out. In particular, we have released more licences into Northland, Gisborne and South Auckland.''
Zespri was now in nearly 60 markets worldwide with Europe or the European Union including Spain accounting for an $800m return to New Zealand while China and Japan were second equal with a return of about $500m to $600m to New Zealand every year.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said kiwifruit was undoubtedly ''the one industry that defines the Western Bay of Plenty''.
"It makes a huge contribution to the local economy - in all kinds of ways. Employment is one big way.
''And it's an industry that has serious growth aspirations – based not just on what's made it successful to date, but by continually innovating and creating exciting new products for the future."
It was also the Bay's truly global player – putting the region on the international map, he said.
"When you think of the whole supply chain around kiwifruit, there are huge spin-offs to other local businesses in town – and of course to the Port.
"While we hear about the shortage of pickers and packers, I think the industry has made great strides in recent years to make conditions and pay as attractive as possible for people."
Priority One chief operating officer Greg Simmonds said the production of new varieties, alongside increasing global demand, was likely to expand the industry and its economic impact.
But continued growth would put increasing pressure on both permanent and seasonal labour, he said.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the port handled about one million tonnes of kiwifruit a year. This represented about 4-5 per cent of its table cargo.
''It's a very high-value cargo for the region in terms of economics.''
Cairns said the port's strategy to attract and facilitate large vessels to New Zealand had enabled orchardists to get their goods to market at the most economical price.
''I think kiwifruit is massive when you think where they have come from through the Psa crisis. A lot of people were crying into their beer back then and it's just outstanding how far they have come with the new brands they developed.''
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive Nikki Johnson said kiwifruit made up 63 per cent of New Zealand's fresh-fruit exports but globally kiwifruit was less than 1 per cent of the world's fruit bowl.
''There is a huge opportunity for growth ... it's massive and the opportunities are pretty amazing.''
Demand for kiwifruit outstripped supply, she said, ''and if we can grow it, Zespri can sell it as the single desk creates a consistent, single-branded, premium-quality product.''
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the growth could only be described as ''a jumbo success''.
That commercial acumen and entrepreneurial spirit could benefit the provinces, and there were already proposals in place, he said.
''This is where I can play a role in encouraging the development... the industry is living proof that the provincial puku needs more than kind words. Now we have fine economic results that reflect the bulge in Bay of Plenty's puku.''
At the moment Land Corp was studying kiwifruit proposals, and Māori landowners in Gisborne and upper Hawkes Bay were being encouraged to work with scientists.
From a small family kiwifruit operation in Opotiki to almost 100ha, Doug Brown knows his vines.
The New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc chairman has been involved with the industry for 35 years through the good times and the bad.
The Browns started buying their neighbours' orchards, and now their footprint has expanded out to Te Kaha, Gisborne and Te Puke.
''Dynamic'' is how Brown describes the industry and ''if you don't like change you shouldn't be in it''.
The family lost 25 per cent of their total crops and all of their Hort 16A crop in the ''dark days'' when Psa struck.
''It was pretty gut-wrenching and most growers were in a pretty dark place. It wasn't a great time. Some growers were worried it would be the end of their orchards, that they would be down the toilet.
"We cut its throat and had to start all over again."
By the numbers
■ 12,692 producing kiwifruit hectares across NZ.
■ 10,238 hectares from Katikati to Whakatane as of 2017/18 season.
■ 3387 producing hectares of SunGold and SunGold organic, 6724 hectares of green and organic green and 127 hectares of sweet green
■ 2585 orchards in the Bay of Plenty.
Tomorrow we look at how the Psa disaster unfolded and how a team of scientists helped save the industry.