Creeping crisis in kiwifruit growing area
Waikato kiwifruit growers are being given a kick in the pants for their complacency about protecting their orchards from the devastating disease Psa-V, as the creeping crisis enfolds 52 per cent of New Zealand's growing area.
With the industry's grower association reporting "rapidly increasing levels of anxiety and stress" as Psa-V continues its spring march through the North Island, biosecurity agency Kiwifruit Vine Health Waikato representative Richard Glenn said he was "uneasy and unhappy" at an apparently low uptake of protective spray programmes by local growers.
He said if growers did not start defending their vines against the Psa-V "tsunami", their orchards, including the green-fruit variety, would "fall over".
Waikato cases remained at two after outbreaks in orchards north of Te Awamutu last month, but 33 Waihi properties now have the bacterial infection, and four outbreaks have been confirmed on the Coromandel.
At least 55 new cases have been identified in the North Island in the past week alone, with 1424 of the country's orchards now with the infection, which attacks and kills vines and has proved catastrophic for the formerly lucrative export gold fruit variety Hort 16A.
Most of the damage was in the kiwifruit-growing capital of Te Puke, in the Bay of Plenty, where 954 orchards are affected, and green-fruit vines were showing advanced symptoms.
The Waikato has 131 orchards and is a significant contributor to the country's organic export crop. Local growers earned nearly $29 million from last year's harvest.
Glenn, a large grower who started aggressively defending his orchards with regular copper and other protective spraying and strict quarantine precautions immediately the virulent bacteria was discovered in Te Puke two years ago, believes industry "culture" is the reason local growers were being slow to react.
"For so long they've hardly had to use sprays that it's a case of moving the culture, moving the goalposts."
Industry experts agree Psa-V, thought to have come from China in a biosecurity incursion, will never be eradicated.
It will have to be managed as well as possible while new Psa-resilient varieties are developed and introduced to help the former $1 billion blue-chip export industry recover.
Glenn advised spraying every fortnight in summer and at least once a month in winter.
He believed most Waikato growers were doing "very minimal" spraying or "nothing" and some were doing "minimum to moderate" spraying.
He said his defensive stance came from being a former apple grower. Pipfruit growers are accustomed to having to manage bacteria, he said.
Psa-V has reduced the number of vulnerable Hort 16A orchards in the region from five to three, but green Hayward fruit orchards still needed spray protection, he said.
His defence programme includes employing two people to patrol his orchards between 9am and 3pm daily, checking every male and female plant for Psa-V symptoms.
Researchers have predicted Psa-V could cost the industry up to $885m and hundreds of jobs in years to come.
The region's growers are due to meet next in Cambridge on October 10 at a briefing organised by national export marketer Zespri, Glenn said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers is rolling out "stress seminars" as Psa-V spreads.
The organisation said 188 people in 14 locations have attended sessions this month from Coromandel to Opotiki. The seminars are held in response to grower demand and have yet to be called to the Waikato.
The first Auckland grower support introductions were under way.
Men's Discussion Groups have started with external counsellors this month.
Growers organisation chief executive Mike Chapman said 1812 hectares of the vulnerable Hort16A variety have been cut out and grafted to new gold varieties, which it is hoped will be resilient to the disease that has devastated Italy's kiwifruit industry.
Chapman said a more "robust" assessment of the Psa-V crisis would be made next month, once spring conditions stabilise in the country's orchards.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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