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NZ: Zespri tells court kiwifruit industry has more than recovered

Zespri has told High Court hearings in Wellington that it has more than bounced back from the devastation caused by the Psa outbreak in 2010.

Called as a Crown witness, outgoing CEO Lain Jager said in 2017 Zespri's New Zealand fruit exports jumped 21 per cent to $1.6billion. But he denied questions from the defence that Zespri's figures alone were being used to represent the industry.

"Not at all," Mr Jager said. "But on average, the industry has recovered, and more than recovered."

This is a claim the 212 growers, who have brought the claim against the Ministry of Primary Industries for damages, have disputed on a number of occasions. They say each individual case is different and some growers still are recovering, and are going to great expense to ensure it doesn't return.

Mr Jager told the court one of the main reasons for the recovery is the introduction of the Gold variety G3, better known as SunGold, which is more superior to the Hort16A which was all but wiped out by Psa. He also suggested his company played a major role in the recovery through its marketing.

"It is true G3 is a better cultivar than Hort16A," Mr Jager said. "At the same time, it is true that Zespri has invested more heavily in the market than they would have historically. Would the industry have achieved demand for Hort16A of 100million trays as we did SunGold?"

He also defended the motivation for the creation of new varieties given part of its income comes from licensing fees charged to growers. He added 90 per cent of his bonus was tied up in grower returns and 10 percent in corporate returns.

The company played a large liaison role with the New Zealand Government after the outbreak, and while it was not clear at the time that pollen was the vector, he admits Zespri would have liked to have been consulted.

"Our view, and it would still be that it would have been better if the MPI had talked to us at the time," he said. "We had a strong interest."

The Zespri CEO, who announced his retirement last month, also praised the banks for supporting the industry through the small amount of foreclosure a during this time. He said the industry gave the banks positive PR in return.

Other current and former Zespri staff and board members are due to appear this week.

Source: National Business Review NZ (edited)

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