It's 2010 in Te Puke and a devastating bacterial strain has taken hold.
It has ruthlessly attacked and it has shown no mercy on gold kiwifruit.
It has ruined vines. It has ruined orchards. It has ruined lives.
Nearly a decade on, the owner of that orchard retells the story of where the Psa outbreak began.
He describes the immediate aftermath as "harrowing".
He did fight back though. He desperately tried to save his orchard.
But in the end it was a waste of time.
Russell West's orchard in Mark Rd, Te Puke, was ground zero for the biggest biosecurity disaster to hit New Zealand's horticulture industry.
On November 5, 2010, a contractor noticed spring shoots were dying on West's Hort 16A gold vines. Panic soon set in after Psa was identified and his Olympus orchard was officially locked down by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), now the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The phone began to ring off the hook. Rumours were rife.
Scientists and experts were flown in from around the country as Psa started to spread like wildfire.
A similar bacteria known as bacteria budrot had always been present on kiwifruit crops. Its hallmark, black spotted leaves, was common in orchards and had been managed by growers for years.
Some initially thought the spread of Psa could be controlled.
They were wrong.
This new strain showed no mercy and attacked Zespri's golden crop ruthlessly.
At West's orchard, scientists and experts in white "Tellytubby" suits soon had his vines under the microscope. A security guard was stationed at his gate. The orchard was placed in lockdown.
"Harrowing" is how West described the unfolding saga with him at the epicentre.
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He likened the scene to what you would see in a surgical operating theatre and the fight against bacteria, "which is a great survivor".
"Once you have been in an orchard that has got the bacteria, it's all over you, it's in your hair and it's all over your clothes."
West had to suit up and decontaminate with disinfectant. He spent days with his brother Peter, who managed the orchard, rushing around cutting vines with black speckled leaves and marking healthy ones with paint.
"I was trying to save my orchard, but in the end, it was a waste of time."
Then, Psa was discovered in the orchard next door to his "which was worse than what we had" and it snowballed from there.
"All hell broke loose," West recalls.
Psa had hitched a deadly ride on the wind and rain, he says.
Seeking solutions to the Psa puzzle
Plant and Food Research group general manager Philippa Stevens was driving to Northland when her boss phoned to say a new strain of Psa had possibly been found in Te Puke.
"I made it to Northland, but as the events unfolded, I turned around and drove back because it was potentially very serious."
Two days later, Stevens was on the ground in Te Puke as part of a response team.
The team worked closely with the MAF and the kiwifruit industry, pooling resources.
Scientists focused on developing a test for Psa's presence, and in trying to determine the level of tolerance in possible new varieties of gold kiwifruit.
Barry O'Neill, who headed the MAF response, says developing a reliable test was crucial.
O'Neill, who has an extensive background in biosecurity risk-management including leading the emergency response efforts into the rabbit calicivirus disease in 1997, says the initial Psa tests were not sophisticated enough, and this caused problems.
"The test was getting confused with a low-virulence strain which is no longer part of the Psa family and has been recategorised. So some growers were thinking we have had this Psa and leaf spotting for years and years and haven't had any major issues with it, so they didn't think it's going to cause a problem."
The diagnostic test developed to accurately determine the presence of the new Psa strain was a world first and meant growers did not have to chop out vines across all orchards indiscriminately.
As shoots on vines withered and incomes dried up, the industry decided to take drastic action and annihilate Hort 16A which proved particularly susceptible to the disease. The infection forced the complete removal of the variety as scientists scrambled to better understand the disease, and how to cope with it.
Hundreds of hectares of vines were slashed back to the trunks, while growers who acted early were offered joint compensation from a $50 million fund from the Government and the kiwifruit industry.
"They cut out gold orchards back to the trunk and green back to the leader and paid the growers some compensation for the loss of earnings and that went on until about February 2011," O'Neill says.
At the same time, scientists were trying to determine if new gold cultivar, G3 – which has since become the major gold variety – would prove tolerant to the invasive disease.
G3 SunGold was in a trial stage.
Scientists were testing right to the latest point and had to choose the best cultivar.
The cultivar, developed by Zespri and Plant and Food Research, would later be credited for saving the kiwifruit industry.
Zespri data shows that in 2010, before Psa, 206ha of G3 was released, followed by 256ha in 2011and 456ha in 2012. Latest figures show nationally there is an additional 1846ha of G3.
The team of more than 100 experts from the Crown Research Institute which worked on the response was awarded the prestigious Prime Minister's Science Prize in 2017, worth $500,000, for its work to help the kiwifruit industry claw its way back from the brink of destruction.
At the time of the award, Dr Bruce Campbell, Plant and Food Research chief operating officer, said the award was a massive endorsement of the scientists' work.
The team included more than 100 scientists from fields including molecular, genetic and epidemiological study, spread across multiple campuses, including Te Puke, Ruakura, Mount Albert and Motueka.
"Fortunately G3 proved to be very good. The G3 regraft by the industry was a test of confidence by the industry in our science.''
Stevens says she and the other scientists who worked on the response were honoured to receive the award.
"We are really proud because it was received for science that was critically important. Kiwifruit is a really important part of New Zealand's economy. Some people think science as almost academic and not necessarily in the world of communities and people.
"But in this case, it was very much in the world of communities, with kiwifruit being a major employer and a major driver of the economy, particularly in the Bay of Plenty. We are proud to have done our bit to support that."
Plant and Food Research continues to be involved with the response to Psa, and it is still carrying out extensive research today, Stevens says.
O'Neill, who was later appointed the chief executive of Kiwi Vine Health in February 2012, says the organisation developed a National Psa Pest Management Plan to ensure the entire industry worked together to overcome the impacts of Psa.
The plan identified key purposes including limiting the spread of Psa, reducing the impact of Psa and monitoring, sampling and pathogen research and development.
The plan's objective was to neutralise the impact of Psa, he says.
"While we haven't fully achieved that, the impacts of Psa are minimal compared to what it was in those early days.
"My reflection on that period up to the national pest management plan being in place was the industry showed great leadership. The people within the industry really stepped up to the challenge. Everyone worked together. The post-harvest pack houses were seconding up to Kiwi Vine Health to do activities, and we were working collectively."
Psa's harsh legacy
For those lucky enough to secure a licence to G3 SunGold, the toll was still high because on average it took several years to get back to production.
For those unlucky enough to go with Zespri's other alternative, Sweet Green, the outcome was much bleaker because it turned out to be economically unviable.
And for early effected growers like Russell West, who regrew Hort 16A, the nightmare repeated itself.
He was the first grower to cut off above the grafts. He regrew with Hort 16A but it died off again one year later. His second Te Puke orchard became infected in 2012.
"At the time we didn't know where we were going or what was going to happen. It was gutting and emotionally demanding," West says.
"I had to lay off staff, and that wasn't very pleasant. I will never forget it, it was pretty hard.
"Then we cut them off below the grafts, and by that time Zespri offered us one of three new varieties they had in the wings. We just had to take a guess of which one do you choose, so I put one into G3 and one into G14 sweet green which later failed economically.
"We are very lucky to have survived. In fact, one the luckiest things was our Bruno, the rootstock that all our plants are grown [from], did not perish. If Psa had killed Bruno the industry would have been a wipeout."
The Wests worked for four years to get the Te Puke orchards up and running again with the help of family and sold them when orchard prices recovered.
The debt levels were crippling because there was no income, West says.
A part of him lost faith.
West still owns an orchard in Te Puke, which has been leased out, and has half shares in an orchard in Hawkes Bay, which was hit by Psa in 2014.
"The industry has turned around and is booming, but some individual growers were badly hurt and driven out of the industry.
"It's a great product, and Zespri is doing a great job marketing the product around the world, so it is nice to be able to focus on growing the crop."
However, his emotions are still raw despite the passage of time.
"Am I okay? Yes, I am happy to be alive and still in the business.
"But my financial position is hugely diminished and we were grateful to have got through it. Others were not so lucky.''
What is Psa - and what does it do?
Psa Biovar 3 (Psa-V) is a disease-causing bacterium that damages Actinidia (kiwifruit) species. It infects kiwifruit vines, colonising tissues, and lives within the vine.
What date was Psa discovered in the Western Bay?
Psa was first detected on a Te Puke orchard on November 5, 2010.
When did Ministry Primary Industries start the response plan and what did that involve?
Containment strategies began in November 2010 - Industry, government and science agencies worked together on strategies to try to contain the disease. Infected vine cuttings were destroyed in huge incinerators or by burial in deep pits. Copper sprays and other chemical solutions were trialled. Movement between orchards was controlled, and equipment was disinfected.
In December 2010 an independent pan-industry organisation, Kiwifruit Vine Health Inc, was established to lead and co-ordinate the response.
By May 2013 a national Psa-v pest management plan (NPMP) was approved by the Government for the industry, ensuring the entire industry worked together to overcome the impacts of Psa-v. Grower levies funded the NPMP.
How much government funding was put towards the response?
In the early stages of the disease outbreak, the Government contributed $25 million, matched dollar for dollar by industry, for the management of Psa.
What ongoing measures does MPI have in place regarding Psa?
Psa is still an unwanted organisms, and as such, there are import health requirements in place on imported nursery stock. MPI manages risk from Psa on any new kiwifruit breeding material imported into New Zealand by requiring all imported kiwifruit plants for planting to be held in a secure quarantine facility for at least 20 months. During this time plants are regularly inspected for signs of Psa. They are also tested for Psa using highly sensitive molecular diagnostic techniques. KVH is responsible for day-to-day management operations of Psa-V by working with the kiwifruit industry.
- Source Ministry for Primary Industries
Tomorrow we look into concerns surrounding the kiwifruit labour shortage.