6 Dec 2012

Orchardist calls latest PSA support gross insult

11:26 pm on 6 December 2012

Some kiwifruit growers are less than impressed with the help on offer in a government support package for North Island orchardists affected by the PSA-V vine disease.

The disease incursion has been declared a medium-scale biosecurity event in a move designed to increase government help for growers.

Minister for Primary Industries David Carter says the declaration will give hardest-hit growers access to hardship funding at levels equivalent to the unemployment benefit.

Mr Carter says it will also give the industry access to further funding to help it assist growers across the country.

The package includes Rural Assistance Payments for growers suffering extreme hardship, one-on-one help from recovery coordinators, and support with technology transfer and advice.

However Te Puke kiwifruit orchardist Rob Thode says the package is a gross insult to growers, most of whom he says won't qualify for rural assistance payments.

"We needed grants and loans to get back on our feet, to recover from a disaster that (the Ministry for Primary Industries) created itself by its own negligence."

He says the declaration is a slap in the face for growers who are watching their orchards, land values and livelihoods crumble.

Mr Carter told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that most of the industry thinks the package is a fair response. "Mr Thode is one of the few that is very disgruntled and has been from day one."

The minister says he has sympathy for growers, but orchardists are in a risk business and when they get hit by a drought, flood or biosecurity incursion, they must sadly take some of the loss.

Mr Carter does not believe biosecurity failings at the border as documented in an official report led to the PSA incursion.

The Sapere report found the ministry let in Chinese kiwifruit plant material, though that breached its own regulations.

Industry welcomes declaration

New Zealand's main kiwifruit exporter Zespri, the official growers' body and Horticulture New Zealand have welcomed the Government's recovery and support package.

Ian Greaves of Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated says the declaration will help it expand grower support programmes across the North Island.

"What this is effectively doing is allowing us to set up networks and make sure the resources are available in all the other regions."

The package is in addition to the Government's $25 million initial response which has funded PSA research programmes.