16 Nov 2010

Kiwifruit disease could cost Government 'millions'

4:47 pm on 16 November 2010

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister David Carter says there may be millions of dollars in financial assistance needed to control the kiwifruit disease PSA.

However, Mr Carter says it is impossible to put an accurate figure on the cost at this stage.

About 500 hectares of vines in the Bay of Plenty have tested positive for the bacteria so far.

Thirteen orchards in the wider Te Puke area have been confirmed as having the disease and a total of 16 are under restrictions. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is testing orchards reporting symptoms of the disease.

Kiwifruit marketer Zespri says it has received more than 200 emails from growers reporting PSA symptoms. On the other hand, nearly 450 growers say their orchards have no sign of infection.

Zespri says 140 cases have been referred to the ministry for further investigation and testing.

So far only one grower has cut down vines on one of his blocks, which produces gold kiwifruit, but that may change if more growers find the disease is affecting vine health.

Mr Carter says that at the moment PSA is a significant infection on a relatively small area. One option was to first aggressively contain the outbreak rather than eradicate it.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Ross Paterson says he has every confidence in the Government's ability to deal with the situation and make the right long-term decisions.

Mr Paterson says he does not have any expectations about financial assistance from the Government.

Growers want clearer instructions

A former chairman of kiwifruit marketer Zespri says growers at infected orchards have not been given clear instructions as to how they should proceed.

Doug Voss recently returned from living in Italy where he saw the disease cause widespread damage and says physically removing it from vines is the only way to be rid of it.

He is disappointed eradication is not the focus and says those with infected orchards have been somewhat left to their own devices.

Zespri says the first orchardist to report leaf spotting is now witnessing red fluid weeping from dying shoots and canes on the property.

Growers at the worst-affected orchards have started cutting back vines and removing plant material under the management of the ministry. Copper-spraying is also being carried out.

Workers from Tonga delayed

The disease has forced 20 seasonal workers from Tonga to delay their departure for New Zealand.

The organiser of the workers, Sefita Haouli, says the workers were to arrive last week to work on pollination in the orchards.

Mr Haouli says seasonal workers throughout the Pacific are beginning to express concern because if the disease cannot be contained, it will affect exports and their wages.