Kiwifruit orchardists say the Psa virus ruined lives, and now the Government needs to take responsibility.

A landmark case goes to the High Court in Wellington today, with 212 kiwifruit growers banding together and alleging Government negligence allowed the Psa virus into New Zealand.

The case alleges a known destructive strain of Psa was let into New Zealand in 2009 because MPI didn't follow its own regulations.

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The growers said the virus had cost them losses of $376 million, before interests and costs. They said this was a conservative figure as they were still suffering and quantifying losses.

Craig Jeffries is among the growers taking legal action. When his orchards were infected he was forced to sell the orchard he'd taken over when his father died.

"We had a trial block of gold kiwifruit, and one morning we went up there, and they looked like they'd been sprayed overnight.

"But it was Psa, it had hit, and it tipped them over within a day.

"It was really virulent. And then it got into our green."

Jeffries didn't want to give up the legacy his father had left him, but he felt he had no option.

"I had to refinance my orchard. The bank was getting nervous about the situation, and I needed finance to get through.

"We had no idea what was coming ahead.


"I was left in a situation where I faced either digging a bigger hole for myself, or trying to get what I could out of it.

"So I had to do a fire sale of the orchard, just to save my home."

Jeffries did manage to keep his home and a small separate orchard. But it's not enough to make ends meet on its own, and he now does odd jobs including rugby coaching and stints at the sale yard.

"It's an orchard that I bought from my late father's trust.

"Emotionally it meant a lot to me, and financially a lot as well. I'll never get back to where I was owning that orchard.

"There are people affected by this that haven't come right. I've lost my father's legacy to me, that I won't get back.

"There are all different levels you can be affected, and emotionally it's been huge."

He points to Psa not reaching the South Island as evidence it must have been imported into the country, which meant MPI had failed.

"There has to have been some major cock up for this to have got into the country in the first place," Jeffries said.

"We should have been protected, we thought we were protected, and we weren't protected.

"At the end of this we want an acknowledgement that hey, yes, there were things that happened here that shouldn't have."

Fellow kiwifruit grower Mike Montgomery also passionately believed it was a Government mistake that led to the infection.

"We knew it was bad, we knew it was really bad," he said.

"So when we heard it had hit New Zealand, you were just hoping against hope that it wasn't going to get you.

"But every day you heard of it spreading, in ever increasing circles."

Montgomery was one of the 'lucky' ones, managing to hold on to his orchards.

But six years of fighting the virus has left him with debt, and at one point he considered moving to Australia and driving trucks to stay afloat.

Montgomery said a court case wasn't what growers wanted, but there had to be accountability.

"This disease never needed to get to New Zealand.

"It didn't just miraculously hop into the air, fly here from China or wherever, and skip Australia."

The Ministry of Primary Industries doesn't accept the allegations, and is fighting the court action.

A spokesperson said they couldn't make "substantive comment" ahead of today's hearing, but they stood by a statement on MPI's website.

"MPI did not 'let' Psa into the country by allowing pollen imports to New Zealand," the statement said.

"Various studies are inconclusive as to exactly how the bacterium entered New Zealand."

In the statement, MPI stated it also had statutory immunity from civil proceedings under the Biosecurity Act.

The case is due to start in the High Court in Wellington today.