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NZ: Kiwifruit growers tell their Psa devastation stories at compensation court hearing
The first witnesses gave evidence in the Wellington High Court in New Zealand this week, in the Kiwifruit Claim case against the Ministry of Primary Industries. Stage 1 of the case is set to establish whether MPI owed a duty of care to kiwifruit growers and whether they breached that duty of care in relation to the PSA incursion. 212 claimants are seeking accountability and compensation for over NZ$376m of losses suffered by growers and the industry, after an outbreak of the disease PSA-V in November 2010 spread.
In his statement to the court, Bob Burt, the first plaintiff and director and shareholder of Strathboss Kiwifruit Limited said the company suffered substantial losses following its orchards being infected with PSA-V in 2011, the company suffered losses for the next 4 years, and it had still not broken even by 2016. He assumed that biosecurity and border policies would prevent the disease from being brought into the country, saying there is no way for him or the other partners in Strathboss to know how the orchard got infected.
In December 2010 the company cut out the 0.5 ha of G3 that it had grafted in August 2010, which was the only new plant material that had been brought onto the orchard to avoid any risk unnecessary risk. This was in addition to an aerial spraying programme using a helicopter to try and protect the orchard, while new tools and vehicles were bought to help prevent spread.
The company forecast that full production would have been around 10,000 trays per hectare for the Hayward and 15,000 trays per hectare for the Hort16A.
However, despite the precautions, Mr Burt said the company first noticed leaf spotting on the Hayward vines in May 2011, and symptoms on the Hort16A (gold) vines in August 2011, affecting the 2012 crop. Unlike many other growers, Strathboss could still get a harvest, albeit a significantly lower yield. But with the die-back on the canes and PSA infected vines, the Strathboss director said it was clear they would not be able to deliver a new crop and would have to be removed.
Photo: Kiwifruit vines at Strathboss
Manager of the Olympos orchard at the time, where Psa-V was originally discovered and declared by MPI a restricted place (RP1), Peter West said he first noticed die-back at the property on April 19, 2010. Due to this, he used artificial pollen on the Hort16A for the first time in October 2010 through a company called Kiwi Pollen.
After sending some leaves from the Olympos orchard for testing later that month, which were showing signs of spotting, his evidence states that the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) called him on November 5, 2010 to say the orchard had the Psa disease, and asked him not to mention what was happening. He went onto say that he had to explain to staff from MAF, who visited the orchard on November 8 to respond to the disease, how a kiwifruit orchard worked.
Mr West also said he was originally told to cut back the infected vines, but the speed was too rapid. In one instance on Olympos, symptoms spread 70m down a single row of vines in just two days.
Another grower, Murray Holmes, who is a trustee in Neeworra had part of his orchard adjacent to RP1. He said his orchard was still not back to full production, and that the ordeal has not only had a financial, but emotional toll on him personally and his family. Mr Holmes added that he had to make commercial decisions on a gut feel, as nobody knew what the best thing to do would be. He recalls that saving one block of Hayward on his property, despite advice from Kiwifruit Vine Health, has helped save the business.
Donald Hyland presented a similar story, but he had to make the tough decision to sell due to his mental and physical health. He admitted to suffering depression after being affected by Psa. Up until 2010, he swore in his evidence, that his business was growing year on year with revenue reaching more than $550,000.
He said there was a lot of confusion when it came to the testing for PSA-V. He was concerned about leaf wrinkling before November 11, but MAF testing came up negative. It was not until November 22 that a positive result was found, but it was not officially confirmed as having the virulent strain until February 2011.
Mr Hyland recalls spending over $30,000 on mitigation and protection measures, before, KVH ordered to cut the vines out. His compensation payout $589,572.50, but Mr Hyland said it was short of what it would have been if his crop had been harvested.
Robert Bayly gave evidence regarding his experience of importing kiwifruit pollen to Australia, as he had an interest in orchards in both countries. He recalled differences in the Australian quarantine restrictions, that he said proved Australian officials understood the risk of transmission of Psa, such as that the pollen must be free of other items that may contaminate, and that the pollen must be collected from unopened flowers.
Mr Bayly also said he had to sell one of his orchards as a result of Psa. He says as a result of the infection crop production decreased over the next three years, and the risk of losing everything became too high. He had another orchard growing G3, which was less sellable.
The Ministry has denied owing the growers a duty of care, and will present its evidence in coming weeks. The trial is expected to run for 12 weeks.
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