When Psa was discovered at a Te Puke kiwifruit orchard in 2010, the Crown research institute deployed a team of more than 100 experts to combat the vine-killing disease.

That team has taken out the top prize at the 2017 Prime Minister's Science Prizes, worth $500,000, for its work to help the New Zealand kiwifruit industry claw its way back from the brink of destruction.

The 2017 Prime Minister's Science Prizes provide a total of $1 million across five categories and were presented in Wellington yesterday.

The top prize went to the multi-disciplinary team from Plant and Food Research, led by chief operating officer Dr Bruce Campbell, for its rapid and successful response to Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae), battling back from the devastating Psa-V disease.

After Psa was discovered at a Te Puke, a team of more than 100 experts was deployed, and their efforts resulted in a new gold kiwifruit cultivar now sold around the world as SunGold.


Forty-eight million trays of the new variety were sold last season, with an export value of $686m - up 70 per cent on the previous year and increasing by around 10 million trays a year.

But, at the time of the crisis, SunGold was still in the initial commercialisation phase.

Hundreds of genetically diverse varieties from the breeding programme had been screened and evaluated to find plant variety cultivars that had increased tolerance to the disease and also met grower requirements and consumer demands for taste.

SunGold emerged as the winner, but Campbell said picking it had still been a leap of faith.

"We had to have confidence that we were backing the right horse.

"It was such a big thing to take a punt on. If we had got it wrong, it would have been devastating."

Katikati Fruitgrowers Association executive member Hugh Moore said the work the researchers did helped save the kiwifruit industry.

"It was fantastic."


He said everything was looked into and they learned more in the six months of research than 30 years.

He said the scientists were informative, holding workshops and believed those involved with the research deserved the top prize in the Prime Minister's Science Prizes.

"It was tremendous research."