With around six orchards a day in New Zealand’s kiwifruit capital now being diagnosed with the most virulent form of Psa disease, next year’s crop is in peril, says the $1.5 billion export industry.
Industry Psa fighting group, KiwifruitVineHealth, said it is ”preparing for the worst, hoping for the best” with increasing reports of Bay of Plenty vines emerging from winter dormancy showing advanced symptoms of Psa bacterial infection and October flowering crunch time approaching.
This is when affected growers will decide whether to commit funds to trying to grow a crop next year, said KVH general manager John Burke. Latest available figures show nearly nine per cent of the country’s orchards are infected with the airborne Psa bacteria and 5.4 per cent with the virulent strain Psa-V. But those numbers are understood to have soared in the past two weeks. Gold fruit orchards are by far the worst affected. While Psa-V has yet to be discovered outside the Bay of Plenty, the industry is alarmed it has spread outside kiwfruit heartland Te Puke to the Mount Maunganui area, the first major jump. Burke said it cost $30,000 a hectare to produce an annual gold crop. So far, growers would have spent up to $12,000 per ha preparing for the 2012 crop. In October they would decide whether to invest the rest in the hope of growing a crop,or to pull out their vines, he said.
Psa was first discovered in New Zealand at Te Puke late last year. Around $30m of a $50m joint Government-industry fighting fund has been spent on researching biological and technical solutions, spraying subsidies to try to reduce the spread, and compensating growers who ripped out vines in the early response to the crisis. Burke said the Bay of Plenty’s wet, windy and mild climate and ”terrible” recent seasons had been an ideal host for Psa. His worst nightmare would be finding Psa-V had blown into orchards in the ”high risk” Whakatane and Katikati areas.
That would mean the industry’s Psa ”map” would involve 9800ha of the total 13,800ha of kiwifruit orchards in New Zealand, he said.
”You can see pollen in puddles (wherever you are) at the moment. That’s blown in from miles away … think about what bacteria which you can’t see has done.”
The industry has set a 2013 target for finding a way to manage Psa. National growers’ group president Peter Ombler said the industry has agreed how to fund the $14.2 million still needed from growers to continue the fight.
Growers of vulnerable gold fruit would contribute 19c a tray of fruit from 2011 harvest returns, and green growers 10c a tray.
Psa-V has devastated gold orchards in Italy and is now affecting green fruit. It is not known how the disease entered New Zealand or why gold fruit is worst hit.