Kiwifruit grower recalls bitter experience of losing orchard

Wendy Arthur's orchard grew the green kiwifruit variety.

Wendy Arthur's orchard grew the green kiwifruit variety.

Former kiwifruit orchardist Wendy Arthur believes she is the only grower in the country who tore out all her plants after the Psa disease struck in 2010.

If she had left the old rootstock in the ground and grafted on the new Gold 3 variety, as other growers did, she would probably have a thriving business today.

The Waihi resident was never compensated, as others were. But she has decided not to join in the class "Kiwifruit Claim" action about to play out in the Wellington High Court, because "in the end I just had to put it behind me and suck it up and move on".

Former kiwifruit grower Wendy Arthur who lost her orchards during the Psa crisis.

Former kiwifruit grower Wendy Arthur who lost her orchards during the Psa crisis.

A total of 212 growers and post-harvest operators are claiming losses of $376.4 million in a case that alleges the Government was negligent in letting Psa into New Zealand in 2010.

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The class action, being run by litigation funder the LPF Group chaired by former Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson, is due to start on Monday. It will last at least 12 weeks.  

Vine wilt, a symptom of the disease Psa.

Vine wilt, a symptom of the disease Psa.

Arthur's experience left her bitter, following "vicious" emails from other growers who pressured her to remove her infected vines.

Fortunately she had a 600-cow dairy farm as well as the 5 hectare orchard in the Waihi Valley, which meant she was in a more secure financial situation than other growers. That might have contributed to the coercion applied to her, she feels.

Arthur said Kiwi Vine Health (KVH) - the industry body charged with dealing with Psa from December 2010 - had advised her to completely remove the vines. Of the 5 hectares, one had been planted in 1980, while the remaining four had only recently been established and were not yet producing.

KVH contests aspects of her claim. It says it told growers in 2011 it was up to them whether or not to completely remove the vines.

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"KVH's position was that although it supported any individual's own decision to completely remove vines from the orchard, it was not a requirement from KVH, and as such not compensated. KVH did however in 2011 pay for the cut out and disposal costs of this orchard which were considerable."

Arthur said she offered to take out a hectare at her own cost but KVH did the job "for nothing", and considered this was by of compensation.

No-one had ever told her to leave the rootstock in the ground so that the new gold variety could be grafted on. "They wanted it gone", she said.

KVH said Arthur then contacted them with her concerns in 2012, and they met with her and her packhouse Seeka several times to discuss the issues she raised and investigated the situation, including seeking extensive legal opinion.

In the early stages of the outbreak, KVH had compensated a small group of Te Puke growers whose orchards had become infected. But once the KVH strategy changed from eradicating Psa to containing it, this early compensation package was deemed "no longer appropriate" and no longer available to growers from March 2011, KVH said in a recent statement.

The growers were given $17m, out of a total aid package of $50m.

"I was very upset about the compensation handed out - it should have been either all or nobody. Those early people all got very well compensated and that was a real bone of contention. By the time my orchards were taken out the compensation money was well gone. They should have put the money into containing the thing," she said.

KVH said Arthur was aware of its stance over compensation prior to making any decisions regarding completely removing her vines, which were cut out in November 2011.

KVH also ensured that Mrs Arthur's orchard was entitled to participate in the Gold3 licence allocation process the following season.

"We were offered the opportunity to have G3 at $8000 per ha (instead of the standard $12,000) but I couldn't do it because I had no rootstock and it was impossible to get any new," she said.

Regarding the upcoming court case, Arthur is ambivalent. She said the claimants were chasing the wrong organisation, but still felt the Government had to share some of the responsibility for letting Psa in.

She supported the claimants because "I can see where they are coming from".  

 - Stuff

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