23 Feb 2013

MPI taken to task over support for tamarillo growers

5:50 pm on 23 February 2013

The Ministry for Primary Industries has been taken to task by MPs over whether it's doing enough to support tamarillo growers battling an insect that is destroying their crops, as well as tomatoes and potatoes.

New Zealand's niche tamarillo industry has been hit hard by the tomato potato psyllid, an insect which bypassed border biosecurity and was discovered in tamarillos in New Zealand in 2008.

Since then tamarillo export volumes have fallen dramatically and about two thirds of growers have abandoned the industry.

At the Primary Production Select Committee this week at Parliament MPs asked Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) officials why some tamarillo growers say MPI is doing nothing to help them.

Labour list MP Shane Jones said growers in Northland tell him they have heard nothing positive from MPI since the initial incursion.

Mr Jones said Northland's tamarillo growers are struggling in the most extreme economic circumstances seen in a long time, yet they say the only organisations they hear from are their banks which want to sell them up.

However MPI readiness and response manager Chris Baddeley told the select committee the ministry has helped the industry in a range of ways including through the sustainable farming fund.

He told the committee MPI works with industry bodies like Hort NZ and not individual growers.

Support for industry not individual growers

New Zealand Tamarillo Growers Association manager Robin Nitschke said the Ministry for Primary Industries has given the industry good support but individual growers feel they have not been extended the same assistance.

He said the Sustainable Farming Fund has matched the money industry has spent on research into chemicals to fight the insect since the incursion almost dollar for dollar.

However Mr Nitschke said individual growers have found themselves in severe financial stress and that's where the Government has been lacking in providing any financial assistance.

He said the tamarillo industry, which declined from about 130 growers in 2008 to about 40 now, has stabilised and is beginning a rebuilding phase.

The industry teamed up in a scientific project with the potato industry and the Sustainable Farming Fund to research new sprays that would be effective against the psyllid.

After 18 months, they found new chemicals which could counter the psyllid and though tree losses were still occurring they were more manageable.